LPGA’s T of C turned into the `Annika Show’

LAKE NONA, FL. – Annika Sorenstam didn’t win on Sunday but – as the only woman in a 50-player group of celebrities that included famous sport stars like Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Brian Urlacher, Jeremy Roenick, John Smoltz, Sterling Sharp and Tom Glavin, the 51-year old golf legend did just fine. No doubt she was the star of the show at the first event of the LPGA season

She beat all of those big names in her group at the LPGA Tournament of Champions, but lost the celebrity title to Derek Lowe – a major-league pitcher for 17 seasons.  He earned $100,000 by winning their one-hole playoff after Sorenstam forced extra holes with a clutch par on the last hole of regulation play.

“To play against Annika Sorenstam, how many people can say that – and in a playoff and prevail?’’ said Lowe.  “She’s a special person.  She means a lot to Lake Nona (the host club) and to all of golf.’’

Sorenstam, who won 17 tournaments on the LPGA tour before taking 13 years off from golf competition, is still tinkering with a comeback.

“I won’t play next week.  It’s the PGA (Merchandise) Show (in Orlando), and we have a fun week coming up,’’ she said.  “We have a busy week with meetings with sponsors.’’

“Next week’’ is also the LPGA’s first full-field event of 2022 – the Gainbridge Championship in Boca Raton, FL. She’ll leave that one up to Danielle Kang, who took a three-shot victory in the LPGA portion of the Tournament of Champions on Sunday, and her rivals of the previous four days – Mexico’s Gaby Lopez, Canadian Brooke Henderson and the Korda sisters – Nelly and Jessica.

Kang shot a 68 Sunday on the same 6,617-yard layout that the men played on.  She finished at 16-under-par for 72 holes and earned $225,000.

“I shot 4-under on a cold day and 3-under yesterday – probably the best I’ve ever played in the cold,’’ she said.  Last year Kang lost the Tournament of Champions title to Korda’s sister Jessica in a playoff at Tranquilo, another course in the Orlando area.

Kang, a 29-year old Californian, won for the sixth time on the LPGA tour but her biggest win was her first. She won the 2017 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, one of the circuit’s majors, at Olympia Fields.

As good as Kang was, the star of the show was Sorenstam, who was paired with the top LPGA players throughout the four rounds.  The women’s competition was at stroke play, the celebs played in Modified Stableford point system.

“I’m not sure what I expected, but I’m super pleased with the great pairings I had all week,’’ said Sorenstam.  “If this tournament was played at any other course I probably wouldn’t be playing, but this is why I came here in the first place.  The support is fantastic, I love this golf course and I’m a proud member for sure.’’