Webb a Factor Once Again

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2006 Florida Natural Charity ChampionshipSTOCKBRIDGE, Ga. -- Welcome back, Karrie Webb.
 
On Wednesday, the Aussie was actually summoned to the interview room BEFORE a tournament, which goes with the territory when you're coming off a major championship but hasn't been a regular part of her routine the past few years.
 
And get this: the media-shy Webb didn't even seem to mind sitting down with reporters.
 
'I still don't like how much time it takes up,' she said. 'But I will handle things a lot better if I'm able to put myself in the spotlight again.'
 
Heading into the Florida's Natural Charity Championship at Eagles Landing Country Club south of Atlanta, Webb is again a player to be reckoned with on the LPGA Tour.
 
Her unexpected victory three weeks ago at the Kraft Nabisco Championship showed that she has no intention of fading away in her early 30s. If anything, Webb hopes to reclaim the form that once made her the most dominating force in the women's game.
 
'I want to be in position to win tournaments more often,' said Webb, who just returned from a couple of weeks in Australia and will be playing for the first time since her victory. 'My goal is to get back to at least the standard I was playing a few years ago.'
 
Webb joined the LPGA Tour in 1996 and immediately shot to the top of the rankings. She was the world's No. 1 player three of her first five years and seemed unbeatable during the 1999 and 2000 seasons, when she won 13 times -- including three majors -- and finished in the top three at 27 of her 47 events.
 
'If I could go back in time and you asked me whether I took it for granted, the answer would be, 'No,'' Webb said. 'But deep down, I always thought I would play that good my whole career without any road bumps.'
 
Webb completed a career grand slam in 2001, doing it quicker than anyone -- yep, even Tiger Woods. But she ceded the No. 1 spot to Annika Sorenstam, and fell farther and farther behind in the years that followed.
 
In 2005, Webb endured her worst season yet. She failed to win a tournament and slumped to 27th in the rankings. Her scoring average jumped nearly a full stroke higher than it had the previous year.
 
With Sorenstam still dominating and an influx of talented teenagers joining the tour, Webb was on the verge of becoming an afterthought.
 
Not anymore.
 
'I'm pretty disappointed in the year I had last year,' Webb said. 'To get back to the winner's circle felt really good.'
 
Webb and Sorenstam are the only players to be ranked No. 1 over the past 11 years. In fact, it was Webb's emergence that spurred the Swede to take her game to another level a few years ago.
 
Sorenstam looks forward to a renewed rivalry.
 
'Karrie has been up there at the top. She knows how to play, and she has bounced back,' Sorenstam said. 'I kind of missed those times when we went back and forth. I'm really happy for her.'
 
Nineteen-year-old Paula Creamer, who won twice on the tour during her rookie season, believes that all those impatient youngsters are now chasing two players: Sorenstam and Webb.
 
'It's unbelievable how much talent Karrie has,' Creamer said. 'Along with Annika, those are the women who did it all. Karrie had a little rest period, but now she's back. She wants it bad. You can see it in her eyes. It's great to have two players of that caliber, competing at that level.'
 
Webb's victory at the first major of the year was as improbable as it was surprising. She knocked in a pitching wedge from 116 yards for eagle on the 72nd hole, then beat Lorena Ochoa in a playoff.
 
Even so, Webb isn't ready to proclaim that she's all the way back. Her game suffered through a period of swing changes and shaky putting, and she's yet to regain the unwavering confidence that marked her glory years.
 
'It's just one tournament,' Webb said. 'I must continue to do that for the rest of the year to say I'm back.'
 
If this isn't just an aberration, Webb plans to relish it a lot more than she did the last time. Every good shot will be savored. Every victory will be appreciated.
 
'It's good to struggle a little bit,' she said. 'I've never enjoyed winning a golf tournament as much as I did that one a couple of weeks ago.'
 
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