The LPGA ended the 1990s in style a great year that gave Karrie Webb a record scoring average and record earnings, and a great shot that gave Se Ri Pak a playoff victory in the season-ending LPGA Tour Championship.
Pak shaped her approach into the 18th green around a tree to 3 feet for birdie on the first extra hole to beat Webb and Laura Davies in a dramatic conclusion to one of the best LPGA seasons this decade.
"I had tree, little bit hanging, bothers me," said the 22-year-old South Korean. "I use three-quarter 8-iron, make a low ball. What I do on 18 is perfect. Just what I want to do."
The victory, worth $215,000, was the fourth of the year for Pak and the eighth in just two seasons on the LPGA Tour. No one has won so much so quickly since Nancy Lopez won 17 times in her first two seasons 20 years ago.
The consolation prize for Webb was the points-based Player of the Year award, a record $1.59 million and the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average. At 69.43, it shattered the mark of 69.99 set last year by Annika Sorenstam.
"It's going to be interesting to see how long this one lasts," Webb said. "This could be the lowest it ever gets, but I could break it myself."
Juli Inkster had to win for any hope of capturing Player of the Year. She had to settle for winning the U.S. Open, completing the career Grand Slam by winning the LPGA Championship and getting into the Hall of Fame. Not a bad season.
The only one who left the Desert Inn Golf Club with a bitter taste was Davies. Her chip from 25 feet on the playoff hole stopped one revolution from falling in. As a result, her career playoff record fell to 1-8.
"I don't want to finish second any more," Davies said. "I'm fed up with that."
The week wasn't a total loss. Davies did watch fellow Englishman Lennox Lewis beat Evander Holyfield, and she cleaned up in the casinos.
Webb was trying to become the first player since Beth Daniel in 1990 to win seven times in a season. She birdied two of the last four holes to get into the playoff, including an approach to 4 feet on the 18th in regulation, but missed her 20-footer in the playoff.
Along with her six victories, Webb was also had six runner-up finishes and was in the top 10 in 22 of he 25 tournaments.
"It's definitely been a year to remember," Webb said. "You don't know how many of these years are going to come by."
Pak is now 2-0 in playoffs. The other victory came in a 20-hole playoff for the U.S. Open last year, the centerpiece of a sensational year in which she won two majors and set two scoring records.
Shackled by the pressure from sudden stardom, Pak spent the first half of the year finding her freedom and adjusting to an American lifestyle. She surfaced happier than ever, and proved this week that her game is as strong as ever.
"First year, good season," Pak said. "This year, one or two (wins) is good enough. Four times
The finish to the year also revealed what could be the start of a great rivalry for years to come between Pak and Webb, who have emerged as the most talented players of their generation.
Pak, tied for the lead with Lorie Kane, finished with a 70. Webb and Davies each had a 68 to finish at 12-under 276.
Davies surged ahead with three straight birdies starting on the 11th to get to 12-under, but she missed several good chances down the stretch. Pak got to 12-under with a two-putt birdie from 20 feet on the 15th and solid pars the rest of the way.
The danger came from Webb. She nearly repeated her remarkable feat from the du Maurier Classic, where she birdied three of the last four holes to beat Davies and win her first major championship.
Webb also had a two-putt birdie from 20 feet on the 15th and gave herself chances on the final three holes. Her approach from a fairway bunker on the 17th stopped 5 feet above the hole, but the putt hung on the right lip.
The 24-year-old Australian, needing birdie on the 18th to get into the playoff, split the fairway with her drive, hit an aggressive approach into 4 feet and made the putt.
The one piece of drama that never unfolded was the battle between Webb and Inkster, the two dominant players on tour this year with 11 tournaments and three majors between them. Inkster needed a victory to have any chance of capturing the points-based player of the year award, and she gave it her best shot.
She stayed within range of Webb with a 4-foot birdie on the seventh after Webb had hit into 3 feet for birdie and the two traded great shots on the next two holes before Inkster finally fell off the pace.
Still, it was an incredible season for the 39-year-old mother of two the U.SOpen, the career Grand Slam by winning the LPGA Championship, and entry into the Hall of Fame with her fifth victory of the season.
^DIVOTS: The last time the LPGA Tour had two players with at least five victories each was in 1990, when Daniel won seven times and Patty Sheehan won five. Webb finished the year with six victories, while Inkster had five.
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