Webb wins first in a whirlwind

An astounding shot catapults the Aussie into a playoff, which she takes on the first hole.

By wire services
Published April 3, 2006

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. - Karrie Webb was so stunned by the final hour of the Kraft Nabisco Championship that she lost her way after completing an amazing comeback Sunday.

First came one of the most dramatic shots in a major, a pitching wedge from 116 yards that covered the flag, trickled into the cup for eagle on the par-5 18th hole and sent Webb leaping into the arms of her caddie.

Then, she had to wait to see if it was good enough.

Michelle Wie had a chance to beat her with an eagle chip, but wound up with par to finish one shot behind. Lorena Ochoa recovered from a back-nine collapse in time to hit 5-wood onto the island green at No.18 and made a 6-foot eagle to force the first playoff at Mission Hills in 14 years.

Webb won with a 7-foot birdie on the first extra hole.

Only then did her caddie, Mike Paterson, remind Webb of the water surrounding the 18th hole and the tradition at the LPGA Tour's first major. She raced toward the pond and took a jump she won't soon forget.

"I was standing there and Mike is like, "Are we going in? Are we jumping in?"' Webb said.

Asked to explain her seven-shot rally, and a shot that sent her slow climb back to Hall of Fame standards into warp speed, Webb could think of only one thing.

"Destiny, definitely," she said.

Wie, 16, felt the same way.

Poised to become the youngest winner of a major, she stayed in the game with clutch shots late on the back nine, including a huge drive and a 5-iron to the green that left her 25 feet away for eagle and the victory. Instead of a putter, she chose to chip. The shot ran 10 feet by, and her birdie to force a playoff hit the left lip.

"I was thinking I could make it," she said of the chip. "And if I didn't make it, birdie. Unfortunately, it got away from me. I guess it wasn't meant to be."

Webb closed at 7-under 65 for her seventh career major, and first since the 2002 Women's British Open. And it came four months after she was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

"I'm ecstatic right now," Webb said. "I feel pretty lucky to be here."

Webb and Ochoa, whose eagle gave her an even-par 72, finished at 9-under 279.

Wie had a one-shot lead with five holes to play but came up one shot short for the second time this year, closing with a 2-under 70. Natalie Gulbis added to the theatrics with three birdies in five holes, but her 18-foot birdie putt to join the playoff turned away.

Defending champion Annika Sorenstam can rule out the Grand Slam. She closed with a 70 and tied for sixth.

Once the dominant player in women's golf, Webb has been retooling her swing, seeing the results on the range. She figured she needed only a few good rounds, a few good tournaments to regain her confidence.

What sent her to the top was a shot for the ages.

She was tied for the lead at 7 under, not knowing that Wie had just stuffed a wedge inside a foot on the 16th hole. Webb had 116 yards to the hole, and her shot looked good from the moment it left her club.

"Yeessss!" she screamed, running and leaping into the arms of her caddie. Then, Webb punched the air with a roundhouse fist pump, patting her chest to steady her emotions.

"I think my heart just about jumped out of my chest, because it was aching for five minutes," Webb said.

Waiting for Wie, Ochoa and Gulbis to finish didn't help.

"I knew 18 was reachable for those guys," she said. "I thought, "I can't believe I have to play a hole after doing that, because it took me 15 minutes to calm down."'

In the playoff, she boldly went after the island green with a fairway metal, the ball going through the green. She hit a flop that rolled 7 feet past the cup, and thrust her arms in the air when she made the putt.

Ochoa fought back tears after her second playoff loss in five tournaments this year. A gutsy eagle on the last hole gave her an even-par 72, but ultimately, it was only a consolation.