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Two-time defending champion gets look at Pumpkin Ridge

May 21, 1997

NORTH PLAINS, Ore. (AP) _ Annika Sorenstam knows she’s following golf’s toughest act at Pumpkin Ridge.

Sorenstam got her first look Tuesday at the golf course on the rolling foothills of the Coast Range 20 miles west of Portland, where she will try this summer to become the first golfer to win a third consecutive U.S. Women’s Open.

It’s the same course where a year ago Tiger Woods won his third straight U.S. Amateur title.

``If our last stand here was any sign of what’s to come, we’re going to have a terrific week here in July,″ said Judy Bell, president of the U.S. Golf Association.

Sorenstam didn’t have time to play the Witch Hollow course, the side of the 36-hole Pumpkin Ridge layout where the U.S. Women’s Open will be played July 10-13. She flew in Monday from Delaware, where she finished third at the LPGA Championship. On Wednesday, she leaves for Frisco, Texas, site of this weekend’s LPGA Skins Game.

It’s the kind of cross-country odyssey that’s required of the defending champion of the most prestigious event in women’s golf. Five others have won consecutive U.S. Women’s Open titles, but no one has won three in a row.

``It would be incredible,″ Sorenstam said. ``I think about it a lot. I have an opportunity to do something nobody else has done, which is a big challenge. But on the other hand, I tell myself `Don’t feel like you have to do it. You have won it twice in a row.‴

Already, this has been a successful year for the 26-year-old from Sweden by way of the University of Arizona. She was married to long-time beau Dave Esch on Jan. 4, and already has won three tournaments _ the Tournament of Champions, Hawaiian Ladies Open and Longs Drug Challenge.

She shot a 67 in the final round en route to a third-place finish last weekend.

Bell helped lay out the par-71, 6,415-yard Witch Hollow course this week.

``I guarantee that the golfer who wins the championship will use every club in her bag and every shot that she knows,″ Bell said.

The tougher the course, the better, Sorenstam said.

``It seems like I do well on the golf courses where conditions are tricky, when par is a good score,″ she said. ``I guess I’m a very consistent player. I hit it pretty boring, straight forward, and I don’t make a lot of mistakes. Maybe that’s why I’ve been able to do well at tournaments like these.″

Sorenstam says some of the golf mania that has followed Woods’ phenomenal ascent since his U.S. Amateur win a year ago has spread into the LPGA. She said it’s not a problem that the women’s game has no single superstar to galvanize fans’ attention.

``Everybody’s talking about golf and hopefully it’s going to rub off on all the tours and all the players,″ she said.

Woods’ big gains in endorsements have had a residual impact, too, Sorenstam said.

``The deals have gone mostly to Tiger,″ she said, ``but they’ve also raised the bar for everybody.″

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