By GRAHAM DUNBAR
EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France – Annika Sorenstam is determined her final year on the LPGA Tour will not become a sentimental journey.
Yet she might make an exception at the Evian Masters this weekend, when tournament officials plan to show their affection by naming part of the course in her honor.
The 37-year-old Swede with 72 career victories plans to retire at the end of the season to marry and start a family. Sorenstam says the Evian Masters has always been close to her heart.
“Evian is just an amazing place,” Sorenstam said Wednesday. “It's so beautiful. My parents always come here. I bring other family members. It's just a lot more relaxed than other tournaments. So, this event I'll certainly miss more than other tournaments.”
A section of the course named “Annika's Place” will be a constant reminder of the two-time Evian champion.
“It is in the heart of the tournament and Annika is in our hearts,” tournament director Jacques Bungert said.
The event boasts total prize money of $3.25 million – matching the U.S. Women's Open – and is a centerpiece at the stylish five-star resort hotel. The course is set on a hillside near Lake Geneva and across from Switzerland, with French Alpine peaks stretching off in the distance.
Sorenstam remembers the tournament's modest beginnings during her first visit in 1995.
“I remember the first time I played here, I think there was – well, there were no ropes,” she said. “There were maybe two spectators, now we have thousands.
“It's been great to see the tournament grow. It just seems to improve in every area.”
The tournament field Thursday includes Lorena Ochoa, who took Sorenstam's No. 1 ranking last year and has six victories so far. She tops the money list at more than $2 million.
The 26-year-old Mexican said she can appreciate Sorenstam's decision to step away from golf.
“She would love to have a family, and I respect that very much,” Ochoa said. “I learned so much from her, and she has always been my motivation to get to the top and improve my game.”
Sorenstam won the Evian event in 2000 – when it debuted on the LPGA Tour – and again in 2002.
Ochoa has never won at Evian, finishing third three times and runner-up to Paula Creamer in 2005.
Natalie Gulbis is defending the title she won in a playoff against Jeong Jang last year. Creamer arrives fresh off a win two weeks ago at the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic in Sylvania, Ohio.
Inbee Park, who won the U.S. Women's Open, will chase the $487,500 winner's prize, along with past champions Karrie Webb, Wendy Doolan and Rachel Hetherington.
Sorenstam will play with fellow Swedes and Evian winners Helen Alfredsson (1994, 1998) and Catrin Nilsmark (1999) on Thursday.
“That doesn't happen too often, so I'm looking forward to that,” Sorenstam said. “There are some emotions. But I didn't want to make this a farewell tour because I'm still focusing on my game, and I didn't want it to be some kind of tribute or something like that.
“I'm here to play, I'm here to compete and I'm here to finish on a strong note.”
Next week, Sorenstam will play in the British Women's Open in her last major and final tournament in Europe. First, she'll get a sendoff at the Evian Masters that she'll fondly remember.
“We love Annika,” Bungert said. “We will definitely show her how emotional we are about her.”