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For Webb, newest game is Fame

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In a sense, Karrie Webb has had two careers on the LPGA Tour.

The first began with a breakthrough rookie season in 1996, when she won four events and led the tour in earnings with more than $1 million. It ended after the 2000 season, when Webb was ranked first for the third time in five years.

Her second career started in 2001, when she lost her No. 1 ranking to Annika Sorenstam while she began to overhaul the swing she had learned at the age of 8 from her longtime teacher, Kelvin Haller, back home in the little Queensland, Australia, town of Ayr.

Webb, who eventually fell out of the top 10 in 2003 for the first time in her career, will enter a new phase after playing in the opening round of this week's $1.8 million McDonald's LPGA Championship at Bulle Rock.

It will be the Hall of Fame phase.

Having already fulfilled the performance criteria needed for entrance with her victory in the 2000 U.S. Women's Open, Webb will complete the final Hall requirement of having played 10 years on the LPGA Tour.

Now 30, she will become the 23rd member of the LPGA Hall. She will be the only inductee later this year.

"I'm looking forward to it. It's something that I never thought in my career I'd be doing," she said earlier this year.

There are some who thought that Webb, rather than Sorenstam, would become the pre-eminent female golfer of their generation. Webb won 22 events in her first five seasons, including five of nine majors during one stretch in 2000 and 2001.

But as Sorenstam gained prominence and later dominance en route to her own Hall of Fame entrance in 2003, Webb seemed to lose steam.

After winning seven times and finishing at the top of the money list in 2000, Webb won three times in 2001, when Sorenstam won eight.

Webb won twice in 2002, when Sorenstam became only the second player ever to win 11 events, and she won once in each of the past two years, when Sorenstam won a total of 18 events.

With her victory yesterday in the ShopRite LPGA Classic in Galloway Township, N.J., Sorenstam has won more than twice as many tournaments (61) as Webb, who remains the tour's No. 2 all-time money winner with more than $10 million. Sorenstam's latest win was her fifth of the year.

Asked if Sorenstam had the same effect on her that Tiger Woods did on his wannabe rivals on the PGA Tour, most notably David Duval, Webb said: "It didn't really affect me because I think I've always been self-motivated. I put enough pressure on myself. I didn't try to let anyone else's results pressure me into working harder.

"I've always worked hard, anyway. Of course, I wanted to try and keep up with her, but it just wasn't to be. The last four or five years that Annika has played have just been amazing. It's been great to watch as a sports fan. I'm a driven person, but I don't think I have the drive to continue a streak like that. I couldn't be like she is every week."

Fans on her side

When Webb finished second in a tournament in Mexico earlier this year, there was a new round of stories about her comeback.

She hasn't come close since, finishing once in the top 10 in six subsequent events.

"You're only as good as your last week, as people say," Webb said. "It's funny. It's been good. For a while, I played well every week and I think people got a little sick of it. Now, they're actually happy to see me play well. I'm trying not to get caught up in the fact that people think I'm going to have a banner year again. I'm not putting that much expectation on myself."

Despite more inconsistent results this year, Webb is not giving up on the possibility of becoming a regular winner again.

"To me, I'm still only 30. I know these days that's pretty old out here, but I still have a lot of good golf left in me," she said.

Webb was a career-low 11th on the money list in 2003, ninth last year and 23rd going into last week before finishing tied for 13th yesterday.

Just as with Woods, Webb's decision to redo her swing came when she was still No. 1 in the world. She has never gotten anywhere close to her previous level.

"I was doing it to get better," she said. "It's for the long term."

Webb attributes her drop in play to the swing changes, but added, "I think it had to do with less confidence and trust."

New outlook

The changes have come while working with another teacher, Ian Triggs, on tour, and continuing to work with Haller, who was paralyzed in a car accident years ago and is unable to travel to the United States. They still talk constantly, and Haller analyzes videotape of her swing.

Webb's prolonged dose of reality has given her a new perspective and seemingly a new personality. She has become more approachable to the media and fans, and appears more like everyone else on the tour rather than the unapproachable diva she seemed to be before.

Though she often attributed her reticent personality during her reign as the No. 1 player to a small-town upbringing, Webb said: "I totally appreciate it more now.

"I just took it for granted that [winning] was going to happen. Deep down, I knew not to, but your mind just tricks you into thinking it doesn't matter, you're going to play good. Not that I've played bad, but I think I appreciate the fine line between playing really good and playing just OK. And I appreciate the successes a little more."

A victory this week would be her seventh major title - eight including the 1995 British Open before joining the LPGA - and tie her for sixth place in majors with Sorenstam and another Hall of Famer, Juli Inkster.

Just a strong finish might be good enough to put Webb into the Hall of Fame on a more positive note. She has a few months until her induction, at which she hopes Haller will be in attendance. She is working with the Christopher Reeve Foundation to help arrange Haller's transportation from Ayr.

"I'd like to go in having a good year; how many tournaments I win or not," Webb said. "Not like I don't feel like I shouldn't be going in, but to have a good year and to enjoy the year on the course would even be better."

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