WEBB wins fourth major in last seven tries

Monday, June 4th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. (AP) _ Karrie Webb made a major statement once again.

Displaced by Annika Sorenstam as the top women's golfer in the world this year, Webb proved Sunday she's still the player to beat in major championships by running away with the U.S. Women's Open for the second straight year.

This time winning by eight shots over Se Ri Pak at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club to capture the largest prize in women's golf history _ $520,000.

Webb made birdie putts of 45 feet and 20 feet on her last two holes to close with a 1-under-par 69 and four-day total of 7-under 273, virtually lapping the field on this tricky Donald Ross layout.

After her win, she kissed the ball and heaved it into the stands.

``I felt fortunate to have won one Open,'' Webb said. ``To win two, I'm well, well ahead of the game.''

The victory was Webb's fourth major in her last seven attempts, making her _ like Tiger Woods _ the player to beat when it counts the most.

``My dream year would be for my game to peak four times a year, in the four majors,'' Webb said. ``But that would be everybody's dream. That's not always possible.

Webb also became only the seventh woman to win the U.S. Open in consecutive years, and has the most dominant stretch in LPGA Tour majors since Pat Bradley won four of five in 1985-86.

``I feel very fortunate that my game has been where I wanted it to be around the majors. And I've done the right things at the right time,'' she said.

Like hit a perfect 6-iron to the seventh green just moments before Pak's hit the same club over. Webb sank the 15-foot birdie putt and Pak bogeyed by missing from 12 feet as Webb was on her way to a second straight Open title.

Webb came into the final round with a five-shot lead over Pak and no other golfers in real contention _ including Sorenstam _ and Pak never got closer than three shots and trailed by six at the turn.

``I was still very nervous the first few holes,'' said Webb, who has reached $7 million faster than any female golfer. ``When you have such a lead, it's your tournament to win or lose.''

Pak, the 1998 Open winner, was unable to mount a charge. She, like almost all of the players in the field, never could string together birdies after Webb posted her 5-under 65 Friday.

``Everyone was trying to play catchup golf,'' Webb said. ``And that's to my advantage because this course is a hard course to play that sort of golf on.''

With Sorenstam out of the picture at 7-over par, Webb's main competition was in her group. But the Korean golfer had trouble with her putter all week, taking eight more shots on the green than Webb.

And Pak also hit a four-day low three fairways on her back nine as she faded with a closing 72 and 1-over total 281.

``This golf course, you can't relax even one second,'' Pak said. ``So many things can happen so quickly. It's so easy to make a double bogey and even more than that.

``I knew if I just played smart, then I would have a chance to play well. But it wasn't easy for me, it wasn't easy to hang in there with Webbie.''

Dottie Pepper's closing 69 gave her third at 2-over 282, which was her best finish in 18 Women's Open. She tied for third in 1990 and 1988.

Pepper, who started the tournament with a 4-over 74, matched Webb and Lorie Kane for the low round of the day and only sub-par rounds Sunday. They were also the only golfers to have two sub-70 rounds in the four-day tournament.

``I'm very pleased with the way I scratched it out the last three rounds,'' Pepper said.

Sorenstam, who shot a 59 earlier in the year and has won five LPGA events this season, knows the elation Webb feels. Sorenstam won at Pine Needles in 1996 for the second of two straight Open championships.

``There is no better feeling to play that well in a major championship, especially a U.S. Open,'' Sorenstam said of Webb's performance. ``She had to feel great to be in control and to play this well. That's what it's all about.''

Sorenstam never could get it together after an opening-round 70, unable to capture the magic she experienced here five years ago when she won by six shots.

``It was one of those weeks where you want a lot and I didn't get a lot,'' Sorenstam. ``It's one of those weeks that I may have to throw out the window and start over and not have bad thoughts coming into the next week.''