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Sorenstam sees lead slip away in final round

HUTCHINSON, Kan. – For once, Annika Sorenstam met her match on the final day of a tournament.

Sorenstam usually is golden when she’s ahead going to the final 18 holes. That’s why the Swedish star looked to be in such good shape when she started Sunday’s final round of the U.S. Women’s Open with a two-stroke lead over Juli Inkster and Jill McGill.

This time, however, it wasn’t enough.

Inkster stormed to her second Open victory with a superbly crafted 66. Sorenstam, finishing with an even-par 70, had to settle for second place, two strokes back.

The dominant player on the LPGA Tour, Sorenstam took the setback in stride – and even with a smile.

“I didn’t lose today. Juli won,” she said. “I think my round was well above average. I should be happy about that.”

Sorenstam began the day 2-under for the tournament on the torturous Prairie Dunes course and that’s the way she finished it. If she had been offered that before the round, Sorenstam said she would have taken it.

How could she have known the 42-year-old Inkster, the second oldest champion in Open history, would play so well?

“I did everything I could,” Sorenstam said. “Juli outplayed me. What else could I do?”

Not bogeying two holes late in the round would have helped.

Sorenstam got to 3-under when she hit a sand wedge to 8 feet on No. 14 and made the putt for birdie, pulling within one stroke of Inkster, who was playing in the group ahead of her. It looked then that it would be a race to the finish.

But Sorenstam two-putted for bogeys on 15 and 16, leaving her only two holes to make up the difference. She kept telling herself it was possible, even though she kept watching the leaderboard and kept hearing the crowd roar in response to Inkster’s shots.

“I had my chances. I was playing well,” Sorenstam said. “I wasn’t going to give up until the last hole and the last putt was in.”

But even with the heat index at 104, Inkster never wilted. Despite making a bogey on No. 17, she calmly made a par putt on 18. Sorenstam was still two strokes behind when she birdied 17. There was one last chance: an eagle 2 on 18 would create a tie and force a playoff.

If anyone could pull it off, it was Sorenstam. But when her second shot stopped well short of the hole, it was over. Sorenstam had won 23 times in the 38 tournaments she led going into the final round. No. 24 will have to wait.

If Sorenstam needed any consolation, the $315,000 check for finishing second makes her the first LPGA player to top $10 million in career earnings.