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A farewell to an all-time great

Annika Sorenstam is chasing a historic fourth LPGA Championship win this week.

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. - Just this week, Annika Sorenstam said she did not want these next few months of the LPGA schedule to come off like her farewell tour.

Yet the fact remains that for any golf fan in this area who wants to get a final look at one of the greats of the modern era of women's golf, the best time and place is this week at the McDonald's LPGA Championship.

Starting with her 8:54 tee time this morning at Bulle Rock, Sorenstam, a three-time winner of the championship, will begin her quest for a fourth title in the LPGA Championship and her 11th title in a major.

Once it's over, Sorenstam will not pass this way again - at least not as a firebrand competitor on the LPGA Tour.

With this year's Sybase Classic in North Jersey already over, and with the ShopRite LPGA Classic at the Jersey Shore dead and gone, any other up-close-and-personal looks at Sorenstam chasing golf history will involve long drives or airline tickets.

Still, Sorenstam, 37 - who announced May 13 she will retire at the end of this year to remarry, hopefully start a family, and pursue a laundry list of other golf business ventures - does not want her final LPGA Championship, nor any other tournament this year, to come off as a sentimental so-long.

"No, it was never meant to be that way," Sorenstam said this week in her pre-tournament interview. "I felt the responsibility to announce my stepping-away decision, because I think I owe that to everybody. But it's not meant to be something else than that."

For the record, any second thoughts?

"No," she said. "I know this is the right thing to do. This wasn't a decision that I just decided over a cup of coffee. I have achieved so much more on the golf course and I'm happy. I don't need to do this anymore. It's time to change my priorities and it's going to be fun, different challenges."

As Sorenstam said that, her fiance and business manager, Mike McGee, smiled at her from behind a small video camera.

For the sake of golf history, it would be nice if Sorenstam could win this week. It would be her 11th major title, meaning she could conceivably catch her buddy Tiger Woods by the end of the year if - and these are


ifs – she also wins the U.S. Women's Open and the Women's British Open,


if Woods doesn't win a major this year.

Chances of all that coming together for Sorenstam? Ah, how about, doubtful?

Even so, Sorenstam already has three LPGA Championship titles, which she accomplished via a three-peat that began in 2003 at DuPont Country Club and ended in 2005, the first year the major moved to Bulle Rock.

Three other luminaries of the game have won it three times: Kathy Whitworth (1967, '71, '75), Nancy Lopez (1978, '85, '89), and Se Ri Pak (1998, '02, '06). If Sorenstam pulls off a victory this week, she would join only Mickey Wright with four LPGA Championship titles.

Whether she wants it or not, what is going on is undeniably an affair of the heart for Sorenstam, her many fans, and plenty of her peers on the LPGA Tour, beginning with the heir to her No. 1 ranking, Lorena Ochoa.

"I will miss her a lot," said Ochoa, 26, who idolized Sorenstam for years, even following in her footsteps by attending the University of Arizona. "She was my motivation for many years and I learned so much from her."

In college, Ochoa tried to do everything the way Sorenstam did it and she chased Sorenstam's records in much the same way Tiger Woods chases Jack Nicklaus'. Once Ochoa turned pro, she turned to Sorenstam for advice. Sorenstam, she said, was generous with her time and insights, even helping Ochoa line up a caddie.

"I can only say, 'Thank you,' to all the things she gave me," said Ochoa.

If anything, Sorenstam seems proud of, almost relieved by, Ochoa's ascent to the top, rather than threatened by it.

"I do feel a special bond with her," said Sorenstam. "I respect her tremendously, and it has been a lot of fun to see her grow. That's another reason why I felt like my timing of stepping away is good. The tour is in great hands. I think the tour is as good as it's ever been. The depth is there. The top is definitely there."