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Happy Hannika

Feb 18, 2003 7:46 AM

Annika Sorenstam’s decision to take on the big boys at the Colonial should be great for golf and the Las Vegas books. At least, it replaced Lebron James as the No. 1 talk-radio topic this week.

There’s nothing in betting more exciting than stepping up to the window with everything to gain and just as much to lose. This isn’t some club pro trying to upgrade the Lesser Hartford Open for the sake of women’s equality or an eighth grader looking to make a mark on the LPGA Tour.

The world’s No. 1 woman golfer is playing under the men’s rules. It has been 58 years since a lady dared challenge the guys. The famed Babe Zaharias made the 36-hole cut in the 1945 Los Angeles Open only to fade with a final round 79.

Can Annika do it? That’s a proposition bet I’d love to make come May 22 when the sassy Swede tees off in Fort Worth. Sure, she can. Her game suits Colonial, which demands hitting fairways and greens on a par 70 track that at 7,000 yards is manageable to Sorenstam’s 265 off the tee. Par 140 through two rounds should be more than enough to qualify for the weekend, so we will put Annika’s window at +2 to +5.

"Annika is the Tiger Woods of women, even more dominating on her tour," said John Avello, race and sports director at Bally’s/Paris Las Vegas. "She’s stronger than 99 percent of the women and more focused. But when you start comparing men and women, the strength factor is just too much to overcome."

Avello puts the odds at 8-1 that Sorenstam can make the cut.

"Figure that she is as good as the 500th ranked golfer on the men’s tour," Avello said. "I respect her as a golfer, but to play from the men’s distance is night and day."

The Palms makes Annika a 300-1 shot to win the Colonial. As far as making the cut, it’s -500 no and +350 yes. If you just want to bet Sorenstam’s first round score, it’s over/under 76½ at minus $1.15.

The whole thing may simply come down to nerves. Annika and Karrie Webb came apart at the infamous Battle at Bighorn a few years back with Tiger Woods and David Duval. The pressure of the match-play format in the desert will be nothing compared to the media swarm at Colonial.

Give Annika full marks for courage. A bad performance could harm both her and the LPGA’s already sensitive standing as a tour men can take seriously. But it’s a risk we as gamblers both admire and welcome.