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Sorenstam makes believers, if not cut

THE BALTIMORE SUN

FORT WORTH, Texas - Peter Jacobsen leaned over the wall outside the clubhouse at Colonial Country Club to get a better view. Annika Sorenstam had just arrived on the 18th green to finish the second round and her historic appearance at the Colonial.

A couple of autograph-seekers were trying to get Jacobsen's attention, but the PGA Tour veteran was focused on Sorenstam.

"What she did was great," Jacobsen said. "It didn't impact my game. It didn't impact anybody's game. The players who looked at what she did as detrimental need to get a real job. I look forward to the day that a woman player qualifies for the tour."

It won't be Sorenstam, who said after missing the cut here Friday that she will happily go back to the LPGA Tour this week and didn't plan on playing a PGA Tour event for the rest of her career.

But maybe it will be one of her peers on the LPGA Tour or, perhaps, Michelle Wie.

Wie, the 13-year-old phenom from Hawaii, was in contention as this year's Nabisco Championship, the LPGA's first major, and will play with the men in a Nationwide Tour event later this year. Wie has said she would like to qualify for the Masters and maybe try someday to play full time on the PGA Tour.

What Sorenstam, 32, did might have made that possible.

"I think that I feel very fortunate to do what I do," said Sorenstam, who missed the cut by four strokes after shooting rounds of 1-over-par 71 and 4-over 74. "For me to come here, get the opportunity to really push myself and live my dream, I hope other women and girls feel the same way that they just get to follow their heart."

There has been talk of other PGA Tour events offering sponsor's exemptions to some of the other top players on the LPGA Tour, specifically the publicity starved B.C. Open inviting Se Ri Pak to its event in mid-July. Suzy Whaley, a club pro from outside Hartford, Conn., qualified for this year's Greater Hartford Open.

Those who criticized Sorenstam for accepting a spot in the Colonial are no longer spouting off; in fact, Sorenstam said that a couple of PGA Tour players who publicly questioned her appearance here privately apologized to her after her remarkable opening round.

Dan Forsman, one of the most open-minded players on the tour, has a simple solution.

"I would say the best LPGA player is exempt as many times as she wants to play the regular [men's] tour," said Forsman, who shared the second-round lead but dropped out of contention with a 3-over 73 yesterday. "If she wants to play the men's tour on occasion, I would say bring her on."

Sorenstam's performance at Colonial also showed something else: There is a talent gap between the PGA and LPGA tours. While she beat 11 players in the field, including former PGA champion Mark Brooks and reigning Kemper Open champion Bob Estes, Sorenstam admitted that "everything is a little over my head."

Luke Donald, a 25-year-old Englishman who is on his second full season on the PGA Tour, said the younger players might be more accepting of Sorenstam and other women competing with them because their generation has grown up with the notion of equal opportunity in sports.

But Donald, who was the NCAA men's champion during his college years at Northwestern, doesn't know why Sorenstam or any other women would want to play the PGA Tour full time.

"She's probably showed that she's good enough to be out here," Donald said. "But if you're the best player on the LPGA Tour and you can win tournaments there, why would you want to come out here and struggle to make the cut?"

Most of the PGA Tour players were sorry to see Sorenstam miss the cut, knowing the intense media attention will dissipate and the huge crowds would dwindle over the weekend.

Jesper Parnevik was proud of what his fellow Swede accomplished.

"This whole week is about Annika," said Parnevik, who didn't seem to mind that his own play was overshadowed by Sorenstam. "It's very historic. I'm impressed with the way she handled herself. She played amazing. I guess we have the Shark, the Tiger, and now we have Superwoman."

Tournament chairman Dee Finley surveyed the scene around the 18th green early Friday night and knew that whatever reservations he might have had in January about Sorenstam playing in one of the PGA Tour's most traditional events were a bit overblown.

"It's been such a terrific week," he said. "It's been wonderful to watch her under such pressure. She's just a truly great professional and it's been fun getting to know her."

Would he do it again, and offer another sponsor's exemption to a woman?

"Under the right circumstances," he said. "These circumstances were extraordinary."

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