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Webb Wavers, Recovers And Wins

Karrie Webb walked up the 18th fairway, a wide smile on her face, a look of wonderment in her eyes and her wraparound sunglasses pushed up so she could take in everything.

The two things she wanted most, the U.S. Women's Open and the Hall of Fame, were in her grasp. All at the grand old age of 25.

"I just shake my head and can't believe I've done so much so soon," she said Sunday after winning her third major and getting the points needed for qualify for the Hall of Fame.

"The fact I've added two more notches on the belt and I'm not yet 26, it's really hard to believe I've done this already."

It was the same thing being said on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. It's fitting, really, that Webb won on a day when Tiger Woods was completing his career Grand Slam with a record-setting victory at the British Open.

Just as Woods has dominated the PGA Tour, Webb has been his equal on the LPGA circuit, winning 21 times in 4 1/2 years.

Despite closing with a 1-over 73, she finished at 6-under 282 to win the Open by five strokes and has now won three of the last four majors - just as Woods has.

"You kind of feel like there's a sense of fate in it all," said Cristie Kerr, who finished tied for second with Meg Mallon five strokes back. "When people tee it up with Tiger, they're playing for second. When Karrie plays well, we kind of all feel like that."

At 24, Woods was the youngest player to win the Grand Slam. Webb needs only the LPGA Championship to complete hers, and has until 2009 yes, 2009 to win it to be the youngest woman to win the modern-day slam.

As further proof of how good she is, Webb's victory Sunday gave her the points she needs for the Hall of Fame. But she must play 10 years on the LPGA Tour before she can be inducted, meaning she'll have to wait until after the 2005 season.

"Just achieving that at such a young age, I've achieved my ultimate career goal," Webb said. "Anything from here is bonus."

She won $500,000, the largest prize ever in women's golf. She also gets a $250,000 bonus for the Nabisco Grand Slam Challenge for winning two majors. She's earned $1.486 million this year and needs just $106,324 to break the LPGA single-season earnings record, which she set last year.

That Webb was able to win the Women's Open, the LPGA Tour's most prestigious tournament, on a day when she didn't have her best game speaks volumes about her talent. She won by five strokes despite blowing her four-stroke lea after dunking a tee shot in the water and making a double-bogey.

Like great champions do, she collected herself and played with a steely resolve that buried her challengers.

Mallon, who was tied with Webb after nine holes, three-putted for three straight bogeys on the back nine and finished tied with Carr. Mi Hyun Kim made a run at Webb, only to double-bogey the 16th and finish tied with Rosie Jones at even-par 288.

"Karrie has proven she's the No. 1 player this week hands down," Mallon said. "I wanted to give Karrie a little bit of a challenge, not lay down for her like I did."

Webb had said this week this was the tournament she wanted more than any other, and her nerves showed early on. On the first hole, her drive strayed just a little to the right, landing in the first cut of rough. No big deal except that she only missed four fairways all day Saturday.

Her putting stroke, so sharp Saturday, was a little off, too. On No. 1, she had a 12-foot birdie putt that rolled along the edge of the cup and kept going, stopping two feet past the hole.

Her worst hole of the whole week came on the No. 7, when her tee shot hit the small bank on the front left side of the green and bounced into the water. She hit again from the drop area, and this shot landed about 15 feet from the hole. Her par putt went 1 1/2 feet by the hole, leaving her with a double-bogey and cutting her lead to one.

But Webb kept fighting. Coming out of the rough on No. 8, she clipped a tree and dropped back into the rough. This is no ordinary rough, either. It's so thick and heavy it almost feels like the artificial turf some people have in their patios.

Webb had little choice but to lay up about 85 yards short of the green, but she still managed to put her next shot six feet from the pin and made the par putt, drawing roars from the crowd.

She birdied the 10th while Mallon bogeyed it, stretching her lead back to two strokes. By the 16th hole, her lead was back to four strokes, and all that was left was the triumphant walk up the 18th fairway.

"Walking up the 18th," she said, "it's the dream of dreams to do that."

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