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How do you top that?
After she had put heart and soul into winning back the world number one ranking in 2001, there was always a question mark over whether Annika Sorenstam could possibly muster up the same passion and enthusiasm to keep the form going for another season.

But the Swede has brushed aside the doubters in style by winning two out of two events this year and this week she starts a run of four successive tournaments as the defending champion by returning to the scene of the most memorable moment of her career.

It was in the second round at the Moon Valley course in Phoenix, Arizona, that Sorenstam became the first woman to shoot 59. As she treaded the course in preparation for the PING Banner Health Tournament, she gladly recalled every shot.

'Its great to be back,' she confirmed. 'I have such fantastic memories of 12 months ago; every putt, every shot. It was definitely the highlight of my career to date. To become the first woman to break 60 was so special, and its something that so few men have achieved.'

After a late start to the year this is only the second LPGA event of the season. Annika, who warmed up by beating Karrie Webb in a play-off for the Australian Masters last month, won the first, the Takefuji Classic in Hawaii.

But, this week she will face both her two big rivals, Webb and South Koreas Se Ri Pak, for the first time. Webb, winner of the Australian Open this month, is hungry for more, while Pak, second on last years money list, will be out to confirm that she could again unsettle Sorenstam and Webb at the head of the order of merit.

For the Scots it has been a bright start to the season. Catriona Matthew and Mhairi McKay both tied ninth in Hawaii, while Janice Moodie and Kathryn Marshall made the top-40.

Mhairis aim is to join the other three as an LPGA winner. Last year she came so close, twice finishing runner-up. On Tour, she is regarded as one of the best waiting in the queue for that first elusive victory.

Janice, meanwhile, could have some distractions this season following her Christmas engagement to American Tim Carneval. She already has the wedding date set for Orlando, Florida, in October, and Mhairi will be one of the bridesmaids.

However, the 28-year-old is unlikely to let anything deflect her determination to add another victory alongside the 2000 ShopRite Classic, or to retain her place in the Solheim Cup team for Europes defence of the trophy in Interlachen in September. In fact, all four Scots should be among the serious challengers for a place in Dale Reids side.

Talking of the Solheim, last weeks announcement that the 2004 Cup has been moved forward to next year is a positive step. With the Ryder Cup having shifted to the even years, there was always only one response for the womens event.

It is just sad that, this year, the Solhiem, in Minnesota from September 20-22, is going to be overshadowed by the Ryder Cup at the De Vere Belfry just a week later.

However, there is a strong argument that the European girls will dish up superior fare. At the moment, the side appears stronger than the US, and there is every chance to feel optimistic about an historic first ever European win on American soil.

As for the Ryder Cup, a European side without such as Jose-Maria Olazabal and Justin Rose is already looking a shade weak.

For the players, of course, the fact that there is another Solheim next year means a hectic period of points gathering. On this years Evian Tour, rankings will run for both the 2002 and 2003 Cups.

©    12 - MARCH 2002

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