At the end of the day--and you knew it was the end of the day
because a bagpiper screeched and squawked up the hill at the
Turnberry Resort--Karrie Webb's come-from-behind victory in the
Women's British Open left women's golf in perfect equilibrium.
With a bogey-free final round of 66 on Sunday, Webb had won the
final Grand Slam event of 2002. And as the other women's majors
were won this year by Annika Sorenstam (Nabisco), Se Ri Pak
(LPGA) and Juli Inkster (U.S. Open), you half expected the piper
to stop playing Amazing Grace and launch into Amazing
Look at the record. Sixteen of the last 19 majors have been won
by the Fab Four--two by Sorenstam, four each by Inkster and Pak,
and now six by Webb. If an accounting firm turned in results like
that, it would be accused of cooking the books. Now that you
mention it, creative accounting was necessary to credit Webb with
the LPGA's Super Career Grand Slam for being the first woman to
win five of the four majors. (Webb won the now-defunct du Maurier
Classic in 1999, before it was replaced last year by the British.
With her win in the 2000 Kraft Nabisco Championship, she is the
reigning champion of the smokables and ingestibles manufacturing
But hark! The piper brings tears with his wheezing rendition of
Flower of Scotland, doubtless to remind us that Webb has won the
first women's major to be played in golf's country of origin. Now
he's into Time after Time, because Webb is the first player since
Mickey Wright to win majors in four consecutive years. Do our
ears deceive us, or is that Be Still My Beating Heart?--because
Webb practically sprinted between shots on holes 70 through 72
after she and her partner, LPGA rookie Beth Bauer, were put on
the clock for slow play.
Until Webb turned it on, though, this was the most open of
Opens, a three-round romp by unknowns and soon-to-be-knowns
along the shores of Turnberry Bay and the Firth of Clyde. At
times the lighthouse at the far reach of the famous Ailsa course
seemed to be a photographer's prop for fresh faces posing
prettily in fashionable rain gear. Mi Hyun Kim, the South Korean
star with the impish smile and wraparound swing, opened with a
68 and said, "I like the links course. Like a little tough."
Pigtailed Paula Marti of Spain, firing at flags for four days,
finished in a second-place tie with Australia's Michelle Ellis
and said, "I think I have hot blood, you know? If you have a
chance to go for it, you have to do it!" Carin Koch, the Swedish
lovely chosen in a recent Internet poll as the golfer that
Playboy readers would most like to see in a gatefold, laughed
off the poll as "fun" and shared the lead for two rounds.
Headline in last Thursday's Sun: YOU CAN WATCH ME CHIP, BUT YOU
CAN'T SEE ME STRIP.
While it wasn't quite Tom Watson versus Jack Nicklaus at the
1977 British Open, Turnberry gave us another spirited duel
between Americans. Nineteen-year-old Natalie Gulbis, the
Sacramento phenom, and Bauer, the former Duke star, took their
battle for LPGA rookie of the year into the dunes. On Sunday,
when Bauer tied for eighth and Gulbis for 13th, their points
race was practically a dead heat. (Gulbis leads, 549 to 547.)
The parade of youth was surprising, because Turnberry, a links,
doesn't normally yield to the target-golf strategies of the
international game. But here's the untold truth about links
golf: Virtually no one plays it, outside of tourists and a few
thousand British duffers with windblown hair. Laura Davies, the
38-year-old English star, startled an interviewer a few weeks
ago when she said she was looking forward to playing Turnberry
for the first time. By the way, she added, she has never played
the Old Course at St. Andrews, either.
So it's always amusing--when professionals gather at Pilticky or
Royal Ballywumpus--to see how the sea winds, bone-hard fairways
and knee-deep roughs sort out the competitors. At Turnberry the
cull seemed random. Davies, coming off a European tour win in
Norway, made a 9 on the 17th hole in the first round and missed
the 36-hole cut by four strokes. Inkster, who won the U.S. Open
in July on a links-style course in Kansas that was tougher than
Turnberry, shot 75-78 and found herself with a free weekend.
Most shocking of all were the misadventures of Sorenstam, who
finished first, second and third in the other Grand Slam events
this year. Sorenstam prepared diligently for Turnberry, arriving
days early for practice rounds at Glasgow Gailes, Prestwick and
Royal Troon. Her reward was a triple bogey and a double over two
rounds at Turnberry and more off-center hits than she normally
suffers in a month. Sorenstam missed the cut by five strokes,
ending her tour-leading streak of 74 cuts made, dating back to
June 1999. "It's a bummer," she said.
Meanwhile, Turnberry rolled over and let its tummy be rubbed by a
bunch of young cuties who didn't know heather from haggis. The
first-round leader was Candie Kung, an LPGA rookie from Taiwan,
who celebrated her 21st birthday last Thursday with a women's
course-record 65. Kung was not a complete unknown--she moved to
Southern California with her parents in 1995, kicked some butt on
the American Junior Golf Association circuit and later starred
for USC--but she was so new to links golf that she probably
thought the Heads of Ayr were the Scottish equivalent of Valley
Girls. "Actually, I was thinking about making the cut," she said
between giggles on Friday, after a 71 in windy conditions put her
alongside coleader Koch at eight under.
Equally callow--and just as delightful--was third-year pro
Jennifer Rosales, a dark-haired beauty from the Philippines.
Like Kung, Rosales played for USC and lives in California, and
last week, after shooting her own 65 for a share of the
third-round lead, she had the same nervous, what-am-I-doing-here
smile. Asked by a reporter how far she drove the ball, Rosales
grimaced, squinted, rubbed her chin and finally laughed. "I
really don't know," she said. "People ask me that." When a media
official wanted to know the length of one of her birdie putts,
Rosales said, "Oh, it was from where you are to there," and
pointed across the room.
Kung and Rosales left Turnberry on their respective clouds,
thrilled to be part of a four-way tie for fourth. Koch, on the
other hand, will look back on the week with regret. As has
happened often in her eight-year LPGA career, she put herself in
position to win, only to stall in the final round. "All these
young players are not afraid to make putts and win tournaments,"
Koch said on Saturday, criticizing her own tendency to leave
putts short under pressure. "I will have to play for birdies."
It was a good plan, but Koch failed to execute it; a 74 on
Sunday dropped her to a tie for eighth.
Not that anybody could have stopped Webb, who made birdie putts
of 10, 25 and 35 feet on the front nine on Sunday. Her only
hiccup came on the par-4 16th, Turnberry's most difficult hole,
when officials informed her that she and Bauer had fallen behind
and would be penalized if they didn't pick up the pace. Webb,
trying to protect a three-shot lead, immediately flew the green
with a wedge from the fairway, the ball rolling down a grassy
bank and perilously close to a narrow moat. "I really rushed that
shot," Webb said afterward.
She didn't waste time cleaning up, either, holing another long
putt, from 30 feet, to save par. "That was probably the biggest
putt of the day," Webb said. "I was a little ruffled because I
was sort of thrown out of the groove I was in."
It was a groove that Webb had spent most of the year trying to
find. She had only one LPGA victory before Sunday--Sorenstam has
six, plus a win in Europe--and has languished at sixth on the
money list. At the U.S. Open, where she was trying for an
unprecedented three-peat, Webb played wretchedly and missed the
cut, a rare humiliation for the relentless Queenslander. But
Webb never wavered at Turnberry. Her tee shots split the
fairways, her irons found the rain-softened greens with
regularity, and the last part of the puzzle, her putting, fell
into place on Sunday. "It was awesome to play with her today,"
said Bauer. "It was inspiring."
For her efforts Webb received $236,383, a warm ovation from the
Scots in the 18th-hole grandstand and a big crystal bowl from
which to eat her Weetabix, the cereal company that sponsors the
tournament. The gasping bagpiper, alas, was so far up the hill
that he couldn't hear even a shouted request. Otherwise he would
have played Waltzing Matilda. That would have been the perfect
send-off for the Australian who, tired of being a wallflower,
saved the last big dance for herself.
Read John Garrity's Mats Only column on golfonline.com.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB MARTIN MAKING THE SCENE Koch was near the top all week at Turnberry until a predictable tumble on Sunday.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB MARTIN SUPERSLAM Thanks to a closing 66, Webb became the first player to win five different majors.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB MARTIN FRESH FACE Rosales was thrilled to tie for fourth.
"It was awesome to play with [Webb] today," Bauer said after
Sunday's finish. "It was inspiring."