Conventional wisdom said to play it safe, go for pars and close it out. But Annika Sorenstam wasn't into conventional wisdom, not with the magic her irons had been producing all week.
So she went for it.
And that three-shot lead she went into Sunday with became a seven-shot runaway in the Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill. Sorenstam's 19-under made for no final-round drama, and it shattered the tournament record by five shots.Jeong Jang had a small window when she got to within two shots of the lead, but Sorenstam put her away with five birdies on the back nine. Her third win of the year was the product of one heck of an endgame.
"A lot of times you get caught up in what other players are doing and what you have to do to protect your lead," said Sorenstam, who didn't miss one fairway on Sunday. "I started that way, and it wasn't a good start. So I decided to play my game, make some shots, score and see what happens.
"I find it very difficult to play defensive. You're counting strokes and putts when you really should be playing your game. That's what I did on the back nine, and I felt a lot more relaxed. Standing on the first tee with a three-shot lead is what we all dream about, but you have to finish it."
Man, did she.
Sorenstam's irons were so good that her seven birdie putts covered a combined 33 feet. On the par-3 17th, her 6-iron got her to within 2 feet of the cup. She birdied that to go 20-under before giving one back at No. 18, only her third bogey in 72 holes.
Jang spent most of the day in sole possession of second place. But thanks to a bogey on her final hole, she ended up tied with Allison Fouch, Karen Stupples and Christina Kim at 12-under - a score that would have won four of the previous five tournaments at Kingsmill.
Sorenstam's $330,000 winner's check increased her earnings to $1,244,281, second on the LPGA Tour money list to Lorena Ochoa's $1,538,616. It was her 72nd career championship and put her over $22 million for her career.
It also was the first time since the 2005 Wendy's Championship that Sorenstam shot in the 60s each day in a four-round tournament. And it came at Kingsmill, a place she had never won before.
"I think I just feel relieved," she said. "I feel at peace (with) myself knowing I can play this golf course."
Her day didn't start so well when she bogeyed the second hole by three-putting from 35 feet. She bounced back with a birdie at No. 3, which she nearly eagled from 14 feet. She was machine-like from there, particularly on the back nine when she could do no wrong.
"She hit a perfect iron shot on every single hole," said Jang, her playing partner along with Kim. "She was really focused and I learned a lot from watching her. She's awesome. Annika is back."
Though she closed it out with near-perfection, Sorenstam's 66 wasn't the only solid round of the day. Fouch shot a 7-under 64 and Stupples a 5-under 66 to take a share of second place and $138,548 each. But nobody was more frustrated than Jang, who was 13-under going to No. 18.
All she needed to do there to have second place all to herself was make a 3-foot putt for par. But she missed, costing herself $62,367.
For Sorenstam, now 37 and closer to the end of her career than the beginning, this latest championship was sweet. A year ago, she didn't play at Kingsmill because a ruptured disk in her neck limited her events. She didn't win a tournament for the first time since her rookie year in 1994.
She came into 2008 as something of a question mark. Now, she looks as good as ever.
"A few years ago when I was the No. 1 player and winning several tournaments a year, you just take certain things for granted," Sorenstam said. "I was expecting myself to perform (well) or even win. Making the top-three wasn't good enough.
"Last year, going through what I did, you appreciate making cuts, you appreciate being top-10 and having a chance to win. There are so many players out there, and when you step away for a while you see it from another light. I know it's tough to win out here, so now I cherish the wins more. It's really worth the hard work."