Annika, Nelly bring an interesting finish to the LPGA’s T of C

Annika Sorenstam, with husband Mike McGee on the bag, is showing — at age 51 — that she can play with the LPGA’s best players in the circuit’s Tournament of Champions.

LAKE NONA, FL. – The Ladies PGA Tour, like the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions, opens each season with a Tournament of Champions.  The women do it a little differently, though. They hold a celebrity event in conjunction with theirs, and Saturday’s third round had an even more unusual twist.

Paired in the final group was the legendary Annika Sorenstam, winner of 72 LPGA titles, and current world No. 1 Nelly Korda.  Both could win titles in today’s final round.

The 22-year old Korda, whose older sister Jessica is the defending champion, owns a one-stroke lead over Danielle Kang and Gaby Lopez among the 29 LPGA members.  Sorenstam, who had been out of tournament golf for 13 years until making a mini-comeback last year, has a two-point lead in the celebrity division.

Sorenstam, a member of the Lake Nona club that is hosting the tournament, is 51 and the only woman in a 50-player field of celebrities that include former Chicago sports heroes Jeremy Roenick, Brian Urlacher, Jon Lester and A.J. Pierzynski. Because the LPGA players are competing at stroke play and the celebrities are using a Stableford point system, it’s  to difficult to compare their performances.

Last year Sorenstam, on a whim, entered an LPGA tournament and made the cut.  Then she was a run-away winner of the U.S. Women’s Senior Open. When she headed the field in the Tournament of Champions, limited to players who have won LPGA titles in the last two years, a comeback story seemed in the offing.

Sorenstam didn’t exactly quell those rumors this week.

“I’m thinking how much golf I’m going to play after this event,’’ she said. “I’m not really sure.’’

She is raising a family now, and that’s just one factor.

“There’s really a fine balance, especially when you play with the best,’’ she said.  “You see the level of players you’re playing against and you realize you’re not there anymore.  My mindset isn’t the way it used to be.’’

She remains a drawing card, however.  In previous years the celebrity competitors drew as much attention as the LPGA competitors in the Tournament of Champions.  On Saturday, in chilly weather that included some rain, that wasn’t the case.  The LPGA regulars and the celebrities were mixed together and the bigger than usual roving galleries supported all the women, but especially Sorenstam and the Korda sisters.

“(Sorenstam) has so much game.  It was cool to see,’’ said Nelly Korda.  “She shot 1- or 2-under on the back nine.  She’s not hitting it as far off the tee, but her woods and iron game is so good.’’