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Clear Sailing
Jaime Diaz
March 06, 2000
Amid the din of Tigermania and the buzz of a resurgent Senior tour, Karrie Webb has quietly taken over the LPGA tour. By birdieing three of the final four holes at the Australian Ladies Masters, Webb won for the third time in a row. At 25, she has the swing, the head and the hunger to dominate the game as no woman has since Mickey Wright in the 1960s. Webb also has one other thing going for her: No one is standing in her way.
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March 06, 2000

Clear Sailing

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Numbers

Led by Darren Clarke's perfect 6-0 mark, European tour members had the best record in last week's Match Play. Here's the won-lost record for each tour in the first two years of the event.

TOUR

1999

2000

Europe

11-11

20-12

Japan

3-3

3-2

U.S.

50-50

41-50

Amid the din of Tigermania and the buzz of a resurgent Senior tour, Karrie Webb has quietly taken over the LPGA tour. By birdieing three of the final four holes at the Australian Ladies Masters, Webb won for the third time in a row. At 25, she has the swing, the head and the hunger to dominate the game as no woman has since Mickey Wright in the 1960s. Webb also has one other thing going for her: No one is standing in her way.

For all the talk about the depth of the LPGA, the talent pool seems awfully shallow this season. Consider Webb's likeliest challengers. Annika Sorenstam is more interested in enjoying her free time than grinding to regain her No. 1 status. Se Ri Pak—who has fired her instructor, failed to land a club contract and labored under constant scrutiny from the Korean media—is a portrait in innocence lost. Juli Inkster remains a fierce competitor, but she's 39, has two children and is coming off the best year of her career, so a letdown seems inevitable. Laura Davies has played phenomenally since having corrective eye surgery, but she's still shaky on Sundays, as her 77 in the Australian Masters and 2-8 playoff record prove. Canadian Lorie Kane might have the best swing in women's golf, next to Webb's, but has nine runner-up finishes, no victories and a big psychological hurdle to clear. Perhaps Webb's challenge will come from the gifted Grace Park, but until the 21-year-old rookie proves she has the goods, Webb looks capable of dominating at least until the Wongluekiet twins get their driver's licenses.

In contrast to Webb, the two players dominating the other American tours (chart, page G16) will probably have more competition. Tiger Woods, 24, has an ever-improving pack of 30-and-unders ready to pounce when he slips. And 51-year-old Bruce Fleisher's amazing run will end sooner rather than later, cut short either by Father Time or by the Senior rookies—Tom Kite, Lanny Wadkins and Tom Watson—who beat him like a drum on the regular Tour.

The point is, Webb has a good chance of standing higher above her peers than any player of this era. Wright and Kathy Whit-worth were such players in their heydays in the '60s, more dominant on the LPGA tour than Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were on the men's circuit. Since then, though, the power in women's golf has shifted continuously among JoAnne Carner, Nancy Lopez, Beth Daniel, Patty Sheehan, Pat Bradley, Betsy King, Davies and Sorenstam.

Right now, Webb is on an upward curve and has steadily addressed her weaknesses. From 1998 to '99 she improved from 96th to 45th on the tour in sand saves, from 70th to 22nd in driving accuracy, and from 49th to 30th in putting. She also improved her strengths, going from fourth to a sterling (77.5%) first in greens hit in regulation. The numbers also show how far Webb is separating herself from her peers. In her eight wins since Jan. 1, 1999, her average margin of victory is 3.2 strokes, more than a stroke better than the average winning margins of Fleisher and Woods.

Matching Wright's LPGA record of 13 victories in a year (in 1963) is a tall order, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Webb win as often as Nancy Lopez did in 1978 (nine times). The extent of Webb's domination will depend most on how well she performs in the majors. Before winning her first at last year's du Maurier, she was guilty of pressing in the big tournaments. Now she's gearing up for them with confidence. "They are my focus," she says.

"Karrie is at that level now that I don't think anyone else can get to," said Kane after finishing second again on Sunday.

Davies, who tied for third at the Australian Masters, said that while everyone will continue to try to catch Webb, "I don't think anyone can. Karrie is special."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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