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Slight fade

After dominating the LPGA Tour for the past two seasons, Karrie Webb is winless this year.

photo
[AP photo]
Karrie Webb watches her tee shot on the second hole during her practice round at the Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C.
By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times,
published May 31, 2001


SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. -- It is only natural, perhaps inevitable, that a glorious run of golf seemingly has slowed to a shuffle. With apologies to Tiger Woods, the game is not meant to be played at the highest level every week. Karrie Webb couldn't keep it going forever, could she?

The questions that dogged Woods this year when he was suffering through his so-called "slump" are posed to Webb now. The reigning U.S. Women's Open champion, LPGA player of the year and leading money winner the past two seasons is still looking for her first LPGA title of 2001.

As the U.S. Women's Open begins today at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, most of the attention understandably is focused on Annika Sorenstam, her biggest rival, who has five victories, including a major championship and an LPGA-record score of 59.

"I can't do anything about the way Annika is playing," Webb said. "She's played great. I've just got to keep doing my own thing."

And yet, the spotlight has taken its toll.

"The last two years have caught up to me," said Webb, 26, who has 13 victories over the past two seasons. "At the beginning of this year, I wasn't ready for my season to start. I've played well, but other players have played better. I haven't done the right things at the right time."

From September through March, Webb -- who makes her U.S. home in Boynton Beach -- returned to her native Australia four times and also made trips to Europe and Malaysia. Several weeks ago, she traveled to Japan for the Nichirei Cup, which she won. She also won the Australian Ladies Masters in March, tournaments that don't count on the LPGA Tour.

It's not as if Webb is mired in mediocrity. She is fifth on the LPGA money list with $343,588.

"My year hasn't gone as well as the last couple have," she said. "But I don't believe things have gone that bad. I'm not too disappointed with the way things have gone. I just haven't done what I've done over the last couple of years. All I can do is work hard and put 100 percent in like I've done the last 51/2 years. And if things work out in my favor, that's great. If they don't, it's someone else's turn."

It would be difficult for any player to match season Webb had in 2000. She won the Nabisco Championship and the U.S. Women's Open, giving her three major titles and the 27 points needed to qualify for the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame. Webb must first, however, be an LPGA member for 10 years, meaning she won't be inducted into the Hall until the conclusion of the 2005 season.

And as Webb said, it's not as if she has fallen on her face. She finished second to Grace Park at the Office Depot, a tournament she won the previous two years; finished second at the Memorial of Naples, and tied for second behind Sorenstam at the Nabisco.

"I won six tournaments in '99 and backed it up last year with seven wins," she said. "I'm just going to continue to work hard and continue to play my best. If it means I'm No. 1 again, great. If it means I'm second, third, fourth or fifth, that's as good as I can do. But I'm going to work just as hard, I can tell you that."

It is hard to believe that Webb has been around for just five years. She came to the United States in 1995 a virtual unknown, playing Futures Tour events. She won the Women's British Open when it was not an LPGA Tour event but still had to endure the LPGA's Qualifying Tournament.

Three weeks before the tournament, Webb fell down a flight of stairs and broke a bone in her right forearm. A doctor placed her arm in a cast and told her it would take four weeks to heal.

Webb was set to return to Australia. Before going, she sought another opinion, and a different doctor placed her forearm in a soft brace. A few days before the qualifier, Webb was hitting balls. And despite the lack of preparation, she finished second at the Q-school, earning playing privilege for 1996. She finished as rookie of the year and the first LPGA player to go over $1-million in earnings.

It is with that perspective that Webb perseveres.

"For me personally, I didn't expect to be the No. 1 player every single year I was out here," Webb said. "I know that there's some people who expect that of the top athletes. But for me, I don't believe that's a possibility, as much as I would like it. I've been fortunate to have two really successful years.

"And this year is not over by any means."

U.S. Women's Open

WHEN: Today-Sunday.

WHERE: Southern Pines, N.C.

COURSE: Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club (6,256 yards, par 70).

TODAY ON TV: 3-7 p.m., ESPN.

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