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With five-shot lead, Webb masters field

The 23-time LPGA champ from Australia is poised to end her season-long drought in style.

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 3, 2001


The 23-time LPGA champ from Australia is poised to end her season-long drought in style.

SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. -- The lead is five strokes, which seemingly is insurmountable. Karrie Webb is the only player in the field with two rounds under par at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, and she is one round from defending her U.S. Women's Open title.

An 18-hole coronation could be in order, a stroll through the North Carolina woods to another major championship.

Webb knows better.

A year ago, she took a four-shot advantage into the final round at the Merit Club, only to be caught by Meg Mallon. Webb prevailed, but it wasn't easy. Nothing is easy at the U.S. Women's Open.

"It's not hard to play with a big lead if you don't take for granted the big lead that you have," Webb said. "Five shots is not enough. There's a lot of golf left out there, and I know as much as anybody how quickly things can turn around."

Webb has a five-shot lead over 1998 Open champion Se Ri Pak. With 1-under-par 69, Webb completed 54 holes at 6-under 204. Pak, who shot 70, was the only other player under par (209). Scotland's Catriona Matthew shot 70 to finish at 210. Juli Inkster (71), Wendy Doolan (70) and Japan's Yri Fudoh (70) were tied for fourth at 211, seven shots back.

"It's not going to be easy," Pak said of trying to catch Webb. "She is a great player, very strong. I need to play my golf, play as smart as I can."

A player has come from five strokes back six times to win the Open, the last being Annika Sorenstam in 1995. Sorenstam's Grand Slam bid appears to be over. She was 11 back after 73.

In fact, the way the Pine Needles course is playing, it appears Webb will have to give her challengers some help if they are going to catch her. Webb's 69 was one of just two scores under par. Grace Park, tied for 17th, also shot 69.

Webb had to play only 18 holes Saturday while a majority had holes to finish in the morning as part of the weather-delayed second round. It made for a long day.

Pak, for example, was up at 4 a.m. and played 34 holes. The third round was not completed until after 8 p.m.

"For the most part, that was quite a bit advantage," said Webb, who took a three-stroke advantage into the third round over A.J. Eathorne, who shot 75. "I think it's one of the reasons why we didn't see as many under-par scores this afternoon. A lot of those girls played 18 holes this morning. And it's grueling enough. I'm tired, I'm drained having played 18 holes, let alone having to play 36."

After shooting 65 Friday, Webb followed with another strong round. She hit all 14 fairways and has gone 32 holes without bogey. She leads in fairways hit and greens in regulation.

And Webb is a pretty good bet with a final-round lead in her LPGA career. She has been in front 21 times, winning 13. In 1999-2000, she held a final-round lead 11 times and won 10, including the Open.

"Karrie is one of the best players out here," Sorenstam said of Webb, who has 23 LPGA victories but none this year. "If somebody can play well at these type of courses, she can.

"She hasn't won this year, but she's such a solid player. She had a good break and worked a lot on her game. She was ready to play. It doesn't surprise me to see her play this well. She is a long hitter and this course fits her game."

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