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Annika Sorenstam swings across a gender barrier

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She strides down fairways with the pugnacity of a Marine drill sergeant, but speaks like a bashful ingénue.

She can make a golf ball take off like a missile, descend with smart-bomb accuracy, and stick to greens like a velcro-covered marshmallow.

Her name is Annika Sorenstam and she is to women's golf what Tiger Woods is to the men's tour.

This week (May 22-25), she will be the first woman in 58 years to play in a men's professional tour event, at the Colonial Invitational, in Fort Worth, Texas. The Swedish-born golf sensation will do more than test the storied skills of the LPGA's best golfer against the best male golfers in the world.

She is setting off the biggest clash of gender and ego since Cleopatra rolled herself into a rug to get Egypt back from Caesar in 51 BC. Or at least since Billie Jean King whupped Bobby Riggs in tennis's over-hyped "Battle of the Sexes" in 1973.

There is good reason for both the hype and genuine interest. Sorenstam is the biggest name in women's golf and has won 19 LPGA tournaments in the past two years. Embodying long drives, a precision short game, and impeccable putting, Sorenstam's prowess has some male golfers quaking in their spikes that she might embarrass them on the links. Although Sorenstam says she just wants to improve her game, the subtext of her challenge is, quite simply: Can the best woman golfer seriously compete with men?

"They can't say it, but a lot of guys on the men's tour would like to morph their drivers into flyswatters and swat Annika Sorenstam like an ugly fly," says Randy Crusoe, a self-proclaimed golf fanatic following Sorenstam at the Takefuji Classic here April 15. "Now I know why: She's good!"


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