For the last two years Annika Sorenstam has lived in the shadow of Karrie Webb, and it was a far from pleasurable situation for the Swedish perfectionist.
Yes, she was the Australian's biggest threat; but that wasn't good enough. She wanted to be number one.
In winning the Cisco World Matchplay Championship in Japan last Sunday, Sorenstam confirmed that she is, once again, the world's top woman golfer, She had more than hinted that she was set to recapture the crown when she won four times in a row (ending the run by winning the first major of the year, the Nabisco Championship), and, in the process, became the first woman to shoot 59 (in the Standard Register Ping Tournament in Phoenix in Arizona in March).
But it was her fight back from four down to beat Se Ri Pak on the final green in Japan that made sure of scooping two of the three greatly coveted end of season LPGA honours.
She is now ready to pick up both the 2001 Rolex Player of the Year award and the money list title. And with just two events remaining - the Mizuno Classic in Japan this week and the Tour Players Championship in Florida in two weeks' time - she is also on course to make it an end of year clean sweep by claiming the Vare Trophy for the best scoring average. At present, Sorenstam is on 69.44 to nearest challenger Pak's 69.69.
The statistics have put 31-year-old Sorenstam, who has been a member of the Tour for just six years, in the all-time legends category. She has now won four Rolex Player of the Year awards and four money list titles. If she holds on to her lead, it will also be her fourth Vare Trophy.
The matchplay victory was her seventh title of the year, and if she wins one or both of the last two then she will join Nancy Lopez (nine in 1978 and eight in 1979) in the record books.
With $1,828,868 currently in the bank, she needs another $171,132 to surpass Webb's single season money list record of $1,876,853 from last year.
Listing Sorenstam's achievements is breathtaking stuff, and it is just a shame for Pak that her own catalogue of success - five victories, $1,623,009 and sub-70 scoring - has been overshadowed.
As for Webb, she has been shoved down to third best. The Australian has 'only' managed two wins (although they were both in majors!) and lies third in the three main honours' categories. Of course, it was Webb's two wonder seasons that helped-re-inspire Sorenstam.
She worked hard on her game - most significantly her putting - and her fitness throughout last winter and has gloriously reaped the rewards. But she will not let-up until the curtain comes down on the Tour Players' Championship in West Palm Beach in Florida on November 19. Only then will she sit back, relax and reflect on a season very well done.
For Pak, who won four times as a rookie in 1998, four times in 1999, but not at all in 2000, it has also been a marvellous return to her magnificent best. Her wins included the third major of her still fledgling career, the Weetabix British Open at Sunningdale in August.
As with Sorenstam, she has continued to work on her golf and has successfully overcome the huge pressures attached to her sensational rookie season when she won her first two majors - the 1998 US Open and the McDonald's LPGA Championship. Next season promises to be even more interesting for the very congenial 24-year-old.
And even if she hasn't quite surpassed her past two season's unrivalled level of success, Webb can also look back with pride on another great year.
She staged a superb defence of the US Open and then became the youngest woman to complete a career Grand Slam (the four majors) by collecting the McDonald's LPGA Championship.
Women's golf is lucky to have such impressive high fliers - three absolutely fantastic players all willing and capable of raising the standard of the game to incredible new levels.
It is up to the rest to keep chasing, and they include Scot Catriona Matthew, who isn't far away at number 10 on the money list and with a debut LPGA win to her credit in Hawaii this year.
As for the Americans, well Dorothy Delasin, Emillee Klein and Wendy Ward are among the younger generation that have won this year.
But they still have a bit of catching up to do to match the form of the Big Three.
|| 1 - NOVEMBER 2001