Mixed emotions for Webb

Karrie Webb returns to the LPGA Championship as a defending champion with mixed emotions.

Updated: June 5, 2002, 5:35 PM ET
Associated Press

WILMINGTON, Del. -- The large photograph that Karrie Webb signed Wednesday for DuPont Country Club officials showed her standing behind a row of beer spigots at the bar as she filled a tall, frosty glass with Fosters.

Clearly, the picture was not taken immediately after the Aussie won the LPGA Championship to claim the career Grand Slam.

Webb was in no mood to celebrate last year. DuPont is where she became the youngest woman to win all four majors, yet it is also the place where she learned her grandfather had suffered a stroke. He died before she could make it home to Australia.

Webb returns to the LPGA Championship as a defending champion with mixed emotions.

"It's two weeks earlier this year," she said. "So, at least I haven't had to deal with the anniversary."

That's not all that has changed.

Webb, Annika Sorenstam and the strongest field of all the LPGA majors are facing a course that never has been more difficult.

The greens were so hard during the pro-am that Barb Mucha threw a ball on the 17th green like she was spiking a football, just to see how high it could bounce. It rebounded up to her ankles. The rough is so thick that Sorenstam plucked a blade of grass and measured it at 8 inches.

"If the greens stay the same speed, anyone who makes it to double digits (under par) has been playing really well," Webb said.

Whether that player is Webb remains to be seen. While Sorenstam has cleaned up on the LPGA Tour, winning four times and the first major at the Nabisco Championship, her chief rival has been relatively quiet.

Webb has only three top 10s in her six LPGA events this year, and the only time she seriously contended was at the Nabisco. She was tied with Sorenstam and Liselotte Neumann going into the final round, didn't make a birdie until the 16th hole and tied for seventh.

"Karrie hasn't played as much as I have," Sorenstam said when asked if she was surprised that Webb hasn't been more of a threat.

The Aussie isn't worried.

A year ago, she did not win on the LPGA Tour until arriving at the U.S. Women's Open in Pine Needles, where she beat the field by eight strokes. Then came the LPGA Championship and a three-stroke victory.

Webb is winless, but she is also refreshed.

"With the majors coming up now, I didn't see much point in being tired for the next stretch," she said. "There's a bunch of big tournaments between now and August. If you play well in the next few months, you can make your year."

Next week is the Evian Masters in France with a $2.1 million purse, the second-richest in woman's golf. Three weeks later is the U.S. Women's Open, with $2.9 million in prize money.

The season, in some respects, is just getting started.

For Sorenstam, the LPGA Championship is the next step toward a Grand Slam. No one has won all four professional majors in the same year -- man or woman -- and Sorenstam has played well enough this year that it already is considered a possibility with just one of the four in hand.

"I know what a Grand Slam is," she said. "I'm not going to think anything more than that. One shot at a time, one day at a time, and that's it."

Webb has won two majors each of the last two seasons, but doesn't think a Grand Slam is out of the question.

"You have to get your game to peak for four weeks," she said. "It would be an unbelievable feat if anyone could do that."

Sorenstam certainly has the game, especially for a DuPont Country Club layout that requires precision off the tee and into the firm greens.

Truth is, there isn't much she is doing wrong.

"I'm driving it really well," she said. "I'm hitting a lot of greens and making putts. I'm very pleased with my game. I think I've been very consistent."

Her confidence isn't bad, either, especially since she is coming off an 11-stroke victory last week outside Chicago -- a huge margin considering it was only a 54-hole event.

Sorenstam said it was the best she has played in a long time, a good sign coming into the McDonald's LPGA Championship.

"It's the second major, and it means a lot to me," she said. "One of my goals this year was to play well in the majors. I'm here, I'm ready, and I want to go play."

Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press