And then an odd thing happened on Sunday. Webb came out nervous, unsure about her club selections, tentative with her putts. Through six holes, she was one over for the day and Mallon was even, and the margin was three strokes. On the 7th hole, a downhill, cross-breeze par-3 playing at 155 yards, Webb struggled to settle on a club, hemmed and hawed about starting a backswing and finally pulled her tee ball into the water. She made a double bogey. Mallon made a par, and the difference was one shot.
Then came the smelling of blood and the making of a kill. Webb played the remaining 11 holes in nine pars and two birdies, and Mallon, tripping on her balky putter, was never again in range. "I had to remember," Webb said later, "that I was still leading."
She closed with a birdie, reaching the par-5 18th with two prodigious whacks, and finished with a 73. In victory, she cried. This is known because she actually removed her wraparounds and revealed her eyes, which were filled with life. Her winner's check was for $500,000. (Last year's winner, Juli Inkster, took home $315,000. This year she finished 23rd, closing with an 80.)
Webb's name goes on a trophy along with those of Patty Berg, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Betsy Rawls, Mickey Wright, Betsy King and Annika Sorenstam. Webb won last year's du Maurier Classic and this year's Nabisco Championship, and now needs only the McDonald's LPGA Championship to complete a career Grand Slam. Her victory at the Merit Club gives her enough points to qualify automatically for the LPGA Hall of Fame. All she needs is the requisite number of years on tour—10. She's halfway there. Getting into the Hall of Fame has been a life's dream for Webb. "Everything from now on is a bonus for me," she said.
A. Sorenstam took the prize for low Sorenstam (tied for ninth, nine strokes back of Webb but seven in front of Charlotta, who finished 27th); Mi Hyun Kim, listed at 5'1", took the prize for low Korean (tied for fourth, ahead of the nine other Koreans in the field); Beth Daniel took the prize for low fortysomething-year-old (tied for eighth, at 43); and Naree Wongluekiet took the prize for low amateur and low 14-year-old (40th). Naree's twin sister, Aree, who finished tied for 10th in the Nabisco Championship, wasn't at the Open. She was in La Jolla, Calif., winning the Junior World Championships by 10 shots. You're looking for the next Tigers? They're already making noise. At the awards ceremony, Webb worried that she may have mispronounced the family name—she probably realizes that it wouldn't be smart to do anything to antagonize those girls.
Webb should be safe for a few years, anyway. Inkster, who is 40, has suggested to friends that she'll start cutting back her schedule next year to 15 events, about 10 fewer than she is likely to play this year. Laura Davies, who tied for ninth last week, and Se Ri Pak, who finished 15th, will still have their weeks, but neither has shown herself to be in the class of Webb. Sorenstam is her main competition. She has won five times this year, including once in a playoff over Webb. She won twice in the two weeks coming into the Open but evidently peaked too early and is No. 2 on the money list again. "I gave her a pretty good run, and she's answered back," Sorenstam said on Sunday. "I need to go home and practice a little harder."
In victory Webb showed her subtle wit and indomitable competitiveness, too. Late on Sunday afternoon, somebody reminded her that Woods needed six attempts to win the U.S. Open and that Webb had needed only five. She smiled, licked her right index finger and made a notch mark in the air. That's how she does her best public speaking: with actions.
In Port St. Lucie, Fla., Mickey Wright did just what the TV executives hoped the rest of the country would do. She watched Tiger in the morning, mesmerized, and Karrie in the afternoon, deeply impressed. Wright won four U.S. Opens, the same number as Betsy Rawls. Nobody has won more. "She could break that record," Wright said. "From everything I've seen, she certainly could."
One down, four more to go. Things that used to seem ridiculous no longer do. The old marks in golf are reachable again. It's a brand new day.