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SORENSTAM WINS OPEN - AGAIN

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The first time Annika Sorenstam won the U.S. Women's Open she was so overwhelmed by the attention she took the next four weeks off.

This time, she says, she knows how to handle success."I know what my priorities are," Sorenstam said Sunday after she overwhelmed the field with an 8-under-par 272 to win her second straight Open. "I think I can handle things better."

Then with a laugh she added: "I'm playing next week, that's a start."

No woman has ever played as well in the U.S. Open as Sorenstam did this week at Pine Needles.

Sorenstam's score bettered the 7-under 277 shot by Liselotte Neumann in 1988 and Patty Sheehan in 1994. And it made her only the sixth woman the win consecutive Opens.

It was good enough for a six-stroke victory over Kris Tschetter and was eight better than Pat Bradley, Jane Geddes and Brandie Burton.

"It was a dream come true again," she said on the 18th green seconds after her final putt fell, choking back the sobs.

Later, with more time to reflect she grasped the magnitude of what she had done.

"It's a wonderful feeling to win this championship," Sorenstam said. "Once was wonderful. To win it twice was more than wonderful. I will never forget this place."

Sorenstam won this tournament the way Opens are won: with pinpoint accuracy and a steady hand on the slick, sloping greens.

She hit 51 of 56 fairways for the tournament - best in the field - was third in greens hit in regulation and averaged 29 putts per round, needing only 27 Sunday.

"All my shots went straight and my putts went in," she said. "I felt like I could close my eyes and make it."

Sorenstam was the first woman to successfully defend her Open title since Betsy King in 1990. And she joined King, Hollis Stacy, Donna Caponi, Mickey Wright and Susie Berning as the only women with back-to-back titles.

Willie Anderson is the only person to win three straight (1903-05) Open titles. Ben Hogan won in 1948, didn't play in '49 because of a car accident and won again in 1950-51.

The 25-year-old Swede took a three-stroke lead into the final round and was never challenged. No one made a move and Sorenstam gave no one any glimmer of hope she would come back to the field.

"I knew that Annika needed to falter," Tschetter said. "But that's just not something that Annika does very often. I kept saying to myself, `What golf course is she playing?"'

When Sorenstam made her one brief slip, making consecutive bogeys at Nos. 13 and 14, she followed with birdies on the next two holes.

She picked up two birdies on the front nine to stretch her lead over Burton to five strokes at the turn and then virtually put away the tournament when she hit the par-5 10th in two and made a 20-foot eagle putt to get to eight under.

Her 66 was the lowest round of the tournament - matching Tschetter - and came under the most pressure.

"I was in the zone today," she said.

When the lead started to grow she shifted into a more conservative mode typical of the brilliant course management she showed all week.

"I was aiming a little more for the middle of the greens," she said. "I figured I'm not the one who has to make birdies out here."

No one put the kind of heat on Sorenstam that would have brought out any flaws in her game that were not evident this week. Burton started the day three strokes behind and fell to four with a bogey on the second hole. Geddes got to three with a birdie on No. 1 but fell five back when she bogeyed No. 4.

Bradley, the 45-year-old winner of the 1981 U.S. Open, started five back and fell to six on the second hole. And Laura Davies got as close as three strokes but her final-round 69 was simply not enough.

Tschetter's run came a little too late. She started the day six back and when she birdied No. 16 right after Sorenstam bogeyed Nos. 13 and 14, she was within four of the lead.

But Sorenstam ended matters moments later with a birdie on 15 and then nearly holed her tee shot on the par-3 16th, the ball hitting the pin and dropping seven feet from the cup.