After a three-month break, the Annika Sorenstam versus Karrie Webb battle recommences this week at the ANZ Australian Masters at the Royal Pines Resort on Queensland's Gold Coast.
And the bad news for the rest of the field is that neither of the world's top two has lost her appetite for success during a longer than usual lay-off.
After two years of Karrie completely dominating the women's scene, Annika, after a torturous winter training schedule both on the range and in the gym, hit back last season and produced a string of amazing highlights. She won eight times on the LPGA circuit, shot an historic 59 and put together a string of performances that even Tiger Woods would have been proud to accept.
This winter, while she has chilled out with regular visits to the ski slopes near her home in Lake Tahoe in Nevada, she reports that she has worked even harder. It hardly seemed possible.
'Last winter, I was in the gym maybe four days a week, but this year it has been five or six,' she said. 'I lift weights, do yoga, swim, run. I've also worked just as hard on my game.
'I know that last year was great, almost unbelievable. But I'm shooting for even better this year. I'm not saying that I'm going to win more tournaments, but I still think I can get better.'
But does she never get sick of the daily, punishing grind? 'No, because I love what I do,' she continued. 'It does take time, patience and a dedication and a will to succeed. But when you get the results, it makes is all so worthwhile, and I definitely don't want to stop.'
Annika freely admits that Karrie's achievements provided the motivation, and now the question is, can the Australian bounce back. She has also suffered a tough training schedule during the break, often working up to eight hours a day on the practice tee and in the fitness room.
'I'm maybe not quite as full on as Annika in the gym, but I feel I'm in as good shape as I've ever been,' she said. 'I've also been practising really hard and am looking forward to the start of the new campaign.'
This week it should be advantage Karrie. She's in her home state and has won the Masters for the past four years. If she wins again she will make history by becoming the first golfer to win the same tournament five times in a row.
But Annika, making her first sojourn to Australia since 1998, also has fond memories of the country. Her first professional victory was in the 1994 Australian Open.
Naturally, the event is being hyped as a Webb v Sorenstam showdown, but it would be silly to write off the rest of a quality field.
And 2002 might not just be about the supposed Big Two. In fact, South Korea's Se Ri Pak, whose victories included the Weetabix British Open at Sunningdale, slipped into second place ahead of Karrie on last year's LPGA money list, and she could be a serious threat.
'Se Ri is certainly a huge threat,' said Annika. 'She had a great season but just didn't get quite as much publicity.'
Karrie agrees. 'Se Ri is right up there and could easily win this year's Player of the Year award.'
Se Ri is delaying the start of her season until next week's opening event of the LPGA season in Hawaii, but Scotland's Catriona Matthew launches her season in Australia.
The top-ranked Briton, at number 10 on last season's LPGA list, she is hoping to do even better this year.
|| 19 - FEBRUARY 2002