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Saturday, June 9, 2012
Karrie Webb lurks one shot back

By Mechelle Voepel

PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Karrie Webb isn't into the whole Twitter thing and estimates she's been referred to as an LPGA tour "veteran" at least since she was 28. That was almost a decade ago.

But if you ask why, at age 37, she's still out here grinding away on the golf course ... well, wait a minute. Why would you ask her that?

"When Phil Mickelson was 37, do you think people were asking him that?" Webb said of the PGA star who will be 42 this month. "Tiger Woods is 36 now. I still have the same drive as those two guys. I want to have a chance to win; it feels great. I played well enough today to have a chance tomorrow."

Indeed she did; Webb's third-round 68 on Saturday matched the best score shot here this week at the LPGA Championship. At 3-under 213, she's one stroke behind leader Eun-Hee Ji of South Korea.

It's a mega-crowded leaderboard, as 12 players are within three shots of the lead. But there's only one LPGA Hall of Famer in that group: Webb.

She said she doesn't think her name has the same intimidation factor on the Sunday leaderboard as it once did, especially not the way it did from 1999 to 2001, when Webb won 16 of her 38 LPGA titles.

But her name still means plenty to the fans who have watched Webb on the LPGA tour since the Australian was rookie of the year in 1996. No active women's golfer has won more titles than Webb, and the crowds react to that familiarity with her success.

"I think I've noticed that the last couple of years ... an appreciation for my career," she said. "And the fans here are just so knowledgeable. Some people have been sitting under the same tree for 20 or 30 years in a row."

The LPGA has played at Locust Hill Country Club outside of Rochester since 1977, and Webb has won here twice. However, those victories were before this course became the site for a major championship. Webb has seven of those elsewhere, most recently at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in 2006. Among her majors is one LPGA Championship, in 2001.

Webb has never really "gone away" since her tour debut, but she did have a lean period from 2003 to '05, winning just twice in that stretch. The Kraft title in 2006 was the start of a comeback of sorts, and in that tournament, Webb hit the most memorable shot of her career.

She holed out from 116 yards for an eagle on the 72nd hole, then won a sudden-death playoff over Lorena Ochoa. She still visualizes that amazing eagle when she needs a little mental boost.

"I replay that shot in '06 over and over in my head," Webb said. "That's a feeling like no other. I think you go through all different times that have been good and try not to forget, 'That's how I want to feel.'

"That feeling came to me so often 10 years ago that I took [it] for granted. Whether I win tomorrow or not, just the feeling that I'll have is what I work hard for. I probably want it more now than I ever have."

Like so many highly accomplished athletes, Webb now sees she was in that catch-22 situation in the peak years of her career.

"When I was in the middle of playing great, if someone had told me that I was taking it for granted, I would have told them I wasn't," Webb said. "But I was. I definitely didn't enjoy that part of my career as much as I should have.

"But then, if I'd enjoyed it as much, I might not have played as well for as long as I did. I wouldn't have pushed myself as hard."

Webb has had pretty good fortune in regard to health. In contrast to someone such as Grace Park, who is four years younger but is retiring after this event, Webb hasn't been bothered much by injuries.

She was never known as a workout demon the way Annika Sorenstam was during her best years, but Webb has stayed quite fit and -- just as important -- flexible. She credits doing a regular stretching routine at morning and night, plus pilates in recent years.

She finished strong Saturday, getting four birdies on the back nine. A victory Sunday would move Webb into a tie with Betsy Rawls at No. 6 on the list of LPGA major winners. Patty Berg is No. 1 with 15, followed by Mickey Wright (13), Louise Suggs (11), and Sorenstam and Babe Didrikson Zaharias with 10 each.

"I'll take a win any week," Webb said, grinning. "But I still get really excited about the majors and the importance they have in everyone's career."