Rivals hoping to profit from Sorenstam's small show of frailty
Thursday August 3, 2006
If Annika Sorenstam played the way she accepted lavish compliments she would be a 24-handicapper rather than pre-emptive favourite for every tournament she enters. She would be a hacker not a genius, a footnote in a never-to-be written history of sporting mediocrity and not, in the honest assessment of Laura Davies, the greatest player who has ever lived.
"Pound for pound, she's the best. Better than Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods," the Englishwoman said on the eve of today's first round of the women's British Open. "Comparisons are difficult, obviously, but the way she dominates us is better than the way anyone has ever dominated any other field over a long period of time. I don't know what Tiger's win ratio is but, without doing the maths, I guarantee you Annika's is better."
As praise goes, it was hard to imagine anything more effusive. Yet Davies, who has won a few tournaments herself, 66 in fact, including four major championships, was not finished. "I enjoy being paired with her but you know she is going to make things happen when she has to and you know you have got to be at your best or else you might as well not bother."
By the time Davies stopped for breath, it would have come as no surprise had she whipped out the British Open trophy to be presented to the winner on Sunday afternoon and started engraving Sorenstam's name on it with a penknife. Fortunately for those looking forward to what promises to be an enthralling four days on a blustery links, the world No1 was on hand to bring a little perspective to the proceedings. "Well, I am flattered but Laura is a good friend of mine," she said, then added the wry afterthought. "Obviously, she's an even better friend now."
The Swede, who is to modesty what Picasso was to Cubism, also had the decency to point out that she has not played her best this year and, by implication, the rest of the field had a good reason for showing for their tee times today. She had a point, although it was seriously undermined by the fact that she has still managed to win two tournaments this season, including the women's US Open in June. Last year, she won 11 times in 20 events.
"It's kind of funny when people say you are in a slump when you haven't won for two or three events, although I take this as a compliment rather than anything else. I know inside that I haven't played as well as I have in the past. If I don't play my best here, it is going to be hard to win."
Expecting Sorenstam to perform below her best is a bit like diving into a shark pool wearing a loin chop necklace and expecting not to be dinner. Yet the suspicion remains that the Swede, for the time being at least, is not quite the player she was, which in turn must give hope to a number of players, including Davies, whose second place finish at last week's Evian Masters in France heralded a return to form after the worst slump of her career.