Keeping up with Annika has become the theme of the LPGA, and it also will be the storyline this weekend at the Safeway International.
Go ahead, ladies, catch her if you can.
Sorenstam, who seems to thrive on her drive to get better and better, stayed on cruise control during Friday’s sun-baked second round at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club in Gold Canyon. She made it look easy, like the rabbit at the greyhound track.
Of course, it’s way too early to concede the $180,000 winner’s check to the Super Swede. Not with her closest pursuers including such gamers as Christie Kerr; defending champ Se Ri Pak; Lorena Ochoa; Donna Andrews; four-time champ Laura Davies; Grace Park and Karen Stupples, who won last week in Tucson.
Even the 14-year-old flash, Michelle Wie, has an outside chance after moving up the leader board to the delight of an estimated 25,000 fans.
Unfortunately for the challengers, the hard truth remains: At the midpoint, the No. 1 player on the planet in women’s golf is perched comfortably at 12-under-par 132. Her bogey-free, 7-under 65 was smoother than it looked, even if it only gave her a one-shot lead over Kerr.
"Yeah, I’m very happy,’’ said Sorenstam of her play. "I putted really good, and today I hit good iron shots close to the pin. . . . It was a good thing.’’
Her longest birdie came from 22 feet at the 17th hole, and she was never outside 13 feet for the other six. The best of the bunch came at No. 2, where she stuck a 9-iron a mere 3 inches from the cup.
"I’m playing hard, giving myself good opportunities and taking advantage of the par 5s,’’ she said.
And while Superstition Mountain’s 6,620 yards is a long layout by LPGA standards, it’s just the norm for the woman who broke through the PGA Tour barrier last summer at the Colonial.
"I’ve been practicing from all the way back, so this doesn’t seem long to me,’’ added Sorenstam, who is averaging 278.2 yards off the tee.
She’ll need all of it over the next 36 holes, as Kerr and Co., are queued as to what they have to do.
"I’ve played a lot with Annika, especially in final rounds and she doesn’t make a whole lot of mistakes,’’ observed Kerr, whose tournament-record 63 on the Prospector Course was forged behind nine birdies and nary a bogey.
"So you have to be on the top of your game, and you have to go in with a slightly more aggressive mindset.’’
Pak, who is one win away from the LPGA Hall of Fame, certainly has the game and savvy to run down Sorenstam. In fact, she might already be in front if not for a 68 that included four bogeys to go along with eight birdies.
Instead, the South Korean star is three shots back, but eliminate the hiccups, and Pak leads by one.
Four shots in the arrears column is Ochoa (67) and Andrews (69). They were followed by Park (65), Davies (66) and Stupples (66), who were five off the pace.
Beyond those players, it’s a shot in the dark. Do not be deceived that Superstition Mountain has suddenly become a pushover, because it’s not when you consider that only 12 players are within seven shots of the leader, and the cut came at 2-over par — two strokes higher than a year ago at Moon Valley.
Wie is one of those at 5-under after posting a 67 that included eight birdies against three bogeys. Especially memorable was the birdie at the 552-yard 13th hole, where she launched a 314-yard drive and a 5-wood from 238 yards to within 10 feet, then burned the cup for birdie.
"(Thursday) my putts didn’t fall in, so I was really frustrated,’’ said Wie, who capped her round with a two-putt birdie at the 508-yard 18th hole. "Today I played okay; I felt a little more relaxed.’’
Asked if she felt victory was still within reach, Wie revealed her innocence.
"Yeah,’’ she said. "I mean, I think anyone can win.’’
Well, anyone who can catch Sorenstam.