STATELINE – The 25th anniversary of the American Century Championship has shaped up to be Annika Sorenstam against the field.
Most of the money is on the former LPGA great Sorenstam, who is listed at 12-10 entering the opening round of the tournament today at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.
There are several former champions in the 86-player field, including eight-time winner Rick Rhoden, four-time winner and defending champ Billy Joe Tolliver, Mark Rypien and two-time winner Jack Wagner, who is the only non-athlete to win the event.
Other players to keep an eye on are former pitcher Mark Mulder (7-1), former hockey star Jeremy Roenick (7-1), former pitcher John Smoltz (8-1), current Golden State Warrior Steph Curry (10-1) and former NFL quarterbacks Trent Dilfer and John Elway, both of whom are at 12-1.
Also in the mix are actor Lucas Black, who notched his first top-10 finish a year ago, and Chad Pfeifer, the Iraqi war veteran who lost his left leg below the knee in 2007.
Sorenstam, a part-time resident of Incline Village, is 11 years removed from her last foray against the men, the 2003 Colonial Open. She retired in 2008 with 10 major titles to her credit.
“I would just say I’m very excited to be here, and when they asked me to play a few months ago, I was like, wow, what a fun thing to participate in,” Sorenstam said. “The last few years I’ve been on the beach with friends on a boat. So now I get to walk on the grass. So kind of dust off some of my rust on the golf clubs.”
Rhoden expects Sorenstam to play well and challenge.
“I’m thinking if she gets 70 something points to win like always, and if she gets more, then hats off,” Rhoden said. “She’ll be in there obviously. She’s not going to rattle like some of our guys the last day. She’s probably got a better wedge game; short game than all of us.
“Even though she hasn’t played, you know she’s going to show up here ready to play. She’s not going to embarrass herself. So I expect her to play really good. But I think we’ve got some guys here that can, if we play good, some of our guys, it would be just like always. I don’t think anybody’s going to run away with it.”
Tolliver said Sorenstam’s presence doesn’t affect him.
“ My take on it, and I’m inconsistent, I’m hit or miss,” Tolliver said. “So some days I’m hitting it good, some days I’m not. So I really don’t care who they bring in. If Tiger Woods comes in here, Adam Scott, whoever it is, Annika Sorenstam. Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t change what I have to do. I have to go get one more point than whoever is in the lead at the time. So you just gotta go play your game and see what happens.
“I think she’s a great addition this year. I think she brings a little vibe to the tournament. I’m glad she’s here. But we do have some guys that can play. I want her to enjoy her time here and enjoy this event. I don’t want all the heat to be just thrust upon her all the time. She knows there is a little heat on her, the LPGA and all that stuff. If one of us were to win, you (Sorenstam) can’t even beat washed-up athletes, or actor, in Jack’s case.”
Pressure isn’t something Sorenstam is thinking about.
“I try not to think about it,” the former LPGA star said. “I haven’t competed. So I am going to be a little rusty as far as just putting a good score together and get in that tournament mode. But I am a competitor. So I know that the juices will flow once I get inside the ropes.
“Some things just never change. We’ll see. I do have a lot of respect for the guys who are here. I mean, they’re true athletes, and it makes me think about what sport would I go play and be as good as they are here. There is probably not a lot of sports I can do it in.’’
When Tolliver and Rhoden were asked about the state of their games, their answers were vastly different.
“I never know,” Tolliver said. “I’m the king of the pro-am. I go out and make a ton of birdies because it doesn’t matter where I hit it because I’ll play their drive if it’s bad. I’m hitting it OK.”
“My game comes and goes,” said Rhoden, who once had status on the Senior PGA Tour. “I play in spurts. Hopefully I’ll have a good spurt this week. I played good yesterday.”
Sorenstam was asked what it would mean to win the ACC.
“You know what, I haven’t really thought about it,” she said. “I try not to think too far ahead. And I don’t know, certainly it’s not going to change my mind and sign up for an LPGA event next week if that’s what you were thinking.
“I don’t know. I don’t know if I will get invited back so maybe I need to be a little cautious. But we’ll just take it as it comes. It’s a point system. I think anything can happen. We’ve gone through a lot of scenarios in our mind. I do know I need to make a lot of birdies and stay away from doubles.”