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Golf: Goosen backs Sorenstam for top-20 slot among men.

Byline: Mark Garrod

Retief Goosen believes Annika Sorenstam is capable of shocking the golfing world next week.

Judging by a survey carried out last week, most people in the sport will be surprised, even stunned, if the women's world No 1 survives the halfway cut when she makes her eagerly-awaited appearance on the United States Tour at the Colonial tournament.

But Goosen says: 'I think she's a bit better than everybody thinks. I rate her very highly and I think she can finish in the top 20.'

Sorenstam herself is probably not even dreaming of doing that well in Fort Worth, Texas, at an event which is attracting massive interest from media and public alike because of her presence.

As a commercial exercise it is already a success - even with Vijay Singh slamming her participation as 'ridiculous' and saying he will withdraw if drawn to play with her. In contrast, Padraig Harrington wishes her well but says: 'I think it's very unfair that she is going to be judged on one event. I think it would be unfair on anyone to do that.

'The pressure to do something when you have only one chance at it is enormous. It would have been a lot better in my opinion to give her a number of tournaments.

'There's no doubt she has great talent and there are some courses during the year where I think she could do well. I just hope for her sake and for ladies' golf that it goes well for her, but it's putting a huge burden on her shoulders when it's a one-off.'

The survey was conducted among players, managers, coaches, commentators and golf writers at last week's Benson and Hedges International at The Belfry, Sutton Coldfield. The results make mixed reading for Sorenstam.

Eighty per cent of those questioned thought she would not get past the 36-hole stage next week but, when asked how many cuts she would make if she played in ten US Tour events, 84 per cent thought she would qualify for at least one. The vast majority believed she would survive two or three out of ten.

However, only 45 per cent believe she should play another men's event and only five per cent think she can achieve her stated goal of finishing level par next week. Nick Price won the title on 13 under last year and level par finished 28th.

Others predicting an early exit for Sorenstam do not believe that all the attention on her will necessarily be the biggest problem. Justin Rose said: 'I think she's incredible mentally. But the course set-up could be the thing that's hardest for her. She has a great short game but I wouldn't imagine she's ever had to control shots into the greens like she's going to have to to compete on the US Tour.'

He predicts Sorenstam will miss the cut by about two strokes on the 7,080-yard, par-70 lay-out while Lee Westwood doubts if she will finish in the top 100. Europe's former No 1 said: 'She's used to pressure but some of the pin placings will shock her. How many times does she hit to a flag that's tucked behind a bunker just a few feet on the green?'

What will it do for the women's game and for Sorenstam herself if she performs miserably? The commonly-held view is that only if Sorenstam is out-classed as well as out-hit will the adventure be deemed a complete failure.

The gap between top men and women tennis players is accepted as enormous because of the difference in power but while no-one is suggesting yet that a woman golfer, even one as good as Sorenstam, could hold their own week-in week-out on the US Tour, the day is surely coming when they can do it on certain courses - and Colonial has been very carefully chosen.

The first woman for 58 years to play on the circuit, Sorenstam says: 'I wouldn't stand a chance on about 95 per cent of the courses on the PGA Tour but I've played Colonial before and you have to be good with your irons and approach shots. That's where my strengths lie. It's very narrow and I plan to play conservative and smart off the tee.'

Singh's words might just inspire her. 'She does not belong out here,' he said. 'What is she going to prove?'

CAPTION(S):

Annika Sorenstam, the world No 1, becomes the first woman in 58 years to play on the men's United States circuit next week
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 14, 2003
Words:755
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