Webb returns to site of first pro win, 20 years later

By Randall MellJanuary 26, 2015, 5:40 pm

OCALA, Fla. – Sometimes greatness emerges in humble, modest circumstance.

That’s how it was 20 years ago when Karrie Webb came knocking on the Mueller family’s door in Ocala. In the United States to sample a handful of Futures Tour events as a fledgling pro from Australia, Webb was assigned housing with Craig and Debbie Mueller as her host family.

The Muellers didn’t know anything about this 20-year-old from Down Under. A promising amateur champion in her own country, Webb was unproven and unknown as an upstart pro in the United States.

“She was a shy kid from a small town who had sold everything she owned and borrowed money from her grandmother to set out on this journey,” says Craig Mueller, who was a firefighter chief in Ocala at the time and is retired today. “The only thing she really brought with her was this confidence in her ability to play professional golf.”

Webb would leave Ocala at week’s end with a trophy, her first professional victory and a $4,500 winner’s check. She also left with a friendship with the Muellers that endures today.

That’s what makes this week’s return to Ocala so special for Webb, who won the Future Tour’s Golden Flake Classic in an eight shot runaway all those years ago. The LPGA’s new season-opening Coates Golf Championship will begin Wednesday on the same Golden Ocala course that Webb won her first pro title on in 1995. She’ll be staying again with the Muellers, in the same house.

Coates Golf Championship: Articles, videos and photos

Who knew back then what greatness lie ahead with Webb going on to a Hall of Fame career that includes more than 50 professional titles, 41 of them LPGA victories, and seven major championship titles?

“I guess we were the first people outside Australia to see the ‘wow’ in her game,” Craig said.

The Muellers followed Webb every round that week. In the evenings, they had dinner together. The night Webb won, Craig popped open a bottle of champagne to celebrate, even though Karrie wasn’t yet of age.

“Yes, I served a minor,” Craig cracked.

A bond was formed.

“It’s a fond memory for me because of Craig and Debbie,” Webb said. “They’ve been my biggest fans ever since, and they’re somewhat of a lucky charm for me.”

The Muellers would travel to two or three LPGA events a year when Webb eventually made her way on to the tour. She won two of the first four events they attended. She finished second in the other two.

“I wanted them to come to every tournament,” Webb said.

By happenstance, the Muellers spent two weeks in Australia on vacation a month before Webb first showed up at their door. Tournament organizers were not aware of that when they made the housing arrangements. The connection seemed to have been in the stars.

“We had knowledge of the country, and I think it made Karrie feel a little more comfortable,” Mueller said.

Craig and Debbie don’t have children, but they’re almost like proud parents, the way they keep magazine clippings about Webb. Craig also keeps a cabinet full of golf balls he has collected from events where they’ve watched Webb play. The Muellers traveled to St. Andrews in Scotland the first time she played there and to Evian in France when she played there last year. Overall, they estimate they’ve traveled to 50 events she has played.

Other tour pros, like Meg Mallon, have also come to know the Muellers.

“Meg introduces us as Karrie’s American parents,” Craig said.

When Webb celebrated her 40th birthday at her South Florida home last month, she made sure the Muellers were there.

Winning in Ocala was a big deal for Webb in so many ways. The $4,500 check wasn’t inconsequential.

“It took some pressure off as far as not having to worry about paying some bills,” Webb said.

Webb would go on to begin her rookie year on the Ladies European Tour later that spring, but she said the victory at Ocala altered her future plans.

“My ultimate goal was always to play the LPGA, to play in the states,” Webb said. “I thought I was going to play a couple years in Europe, but that experience playing in the United States made me feel like I wanted to go to LPGA Q-School straight away.”

Webb won the Women’s British Open as an LET rookie later in ’95 and then came back to the United States and won her LPGA membership at Q-School.

Twenty years ago, a player didn’t need status to play the Futures Tour.

“You just needed $500,” Webb said.

The American experience was good for Webb. As a junior champion in Greg Norman’s youth program in Australia, Webb won a week in the United States when she was 17. She and another junior champ stayed with the Norman family and got to see close up what his life was like as a star.

“That was my first stay in the United States, but it wasn’t really like living in the real world,” Webb said.

When she came over in ’95 to play Ocala and four other Future Tour events, Webb got a good feel for this country in her prolonged stay. She went to Disney World with her caddie after her victory. She scalped tickets to a Masters’ practice round.

“I think playing well in the United States gave me some confidence going over to Europe,” Webb said.

The seeds of Webb’s success in America were first planted in Ocala. Her Hall of Fame career still has roots there with the Muellers. She would love deepening those roots with another victory there this week.

At 40 now, Webb isn’t slowing down. She won twice last year and says she worked harder this offseason than she has getting ready for the last five or six seasons. She likes the work she’s doing with new swing coach Mike McGetrick and is eager to see what she can do this year.

“I feel like the pieces are all there to have a good year,” Webb said. “It’s just a matter of keeping expectations moderate and following the process to play well and see what that produces.”

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M. Jutanugarn eyeing first win with L.A. Open lead

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 1:50 am

LOS ANGELES - Moriya Jutanugarn took the lead into the weekend at the Hugel-JTBC L.A. Open in her latest bid to join younger sister Ariya as an LPGA winner.

Moriya Jutanugarn shot a bogey-free 5-under 66 on Friday at Wilshire Country Club to get to 8-under 134 in the LPGA Tour's first event in Los Angeles since 2005. The 23-year-old from Thailand started fast with birdies on the par-5 second, par-4 third and par-3 fourth and added two more on the par-4 11th and par-5 13th.

Ariya Jutanugarn has seven LPGA victories.

Marina Alex was second after a 68.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

So Yeon Ryu was 6 under after a 69, and fellow South Korean players Inbee Park(71) and Eun-Hee Ji (69). Park was the first-round leader at 66. Lexi Thompsonwas 3 under after a 71.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng followed her opening 74 with a 67 to get to 1 under.

Ariya Jutanugarn (71) was even par, and Michelle Wie (70) was 1 over. Brooke Henderson, the Canadian star who won last week in Hawaii, had a 79 to miss the cut.

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Johnson, Moore co-lead Valero Texas Open through 36

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 1:00 am

SAN ANTONIO - Zach Johnson was going nowhere in the Valero Texas Open when it all changed with one putt.

He made an 8-foot par putt on the 13th hole of the opening round to stay at 2 under. He followed with a big drive, a hybrid into 12 feet and an eagle. Johnson was on his way, and he kept right on going Friday to a 7-under 65 and a share of the 36-hole lead with Ryan Moore.

''You just never know. That's the beauty of this game,'' Johnson said. ''I felt like I was hitting some solid shots and wasn't getting rewarded, and you've just got to stay in it. You've got to persevere, grind it out, fight for pars. You just never know.''

Moore had three birdies over his last five holes for a 67 and joined Johnson at 9-under 135.

They had a one-shot lead over Grayson Murray (69) and Andrew Landry (67).

Ben Crane (66), Martin Laird (65) and David Hearn (68) were three shots behind. Billy Horschel and Keegan Bradley shot 71 and were four shots behind at 5-under 139.

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio, had a short stay in his first time at the Texas Open since 2010. Garcia shot an even-par 72, and at one point became so frustrated he threw his driver into the shrubs.

Garcia finished at 2-over 146 and missed the cut.

It was the first time since 2010 that Garcia missed the cut in successive starts. That was the PGA Championship and, 10 weeks later, the Castello Masters in Spain. This time, he missed the cut in the Masters and Texas Open three weeks apart.

Johnson, a two-time winner of the Texas Open, appeared to be headed to a short week until the key par save on the 13th hole, followed by his eagle, par and three straight birdies. He began the second round Friday with five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, a sixth birdie on the par-4 first hole, and then an eagle on the short par-4 fifth when he holed out from a greenside bunker.

The only sour taste to his second round was a three-putt bogey from about 30 feet on his final hole. Even so, the view was much better than it was Thursday afternoon.

Moore thought he had wasted a good birdie opportunity on the par-5 14th hole when he left his 50-foot eagle putt about 6 feet short. But he made that, and then holed a similar putt from 8 feet for birdie on the next hole and capped his good finish with a 15-foot putt on the 17th.

''That was a huge momentum putt there,'' Moore said of the 14th. ''It was a tough putt from down there with a lot of wind. That green is pretty exposed and ... yeah, really short and committed to that second putt really well and knocked it right in the middle.''

The birdies on the 14th and 15th were important to Moore because he missed a pair of 10-foot birdie tries to start the back nine.

''So it was nice to get those and get going in the right direction on the back,'' he said.

The cut was at 1-over 145, and because 80 players made the cut, there will be a 54-hole cut on Saturday.

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Garcia tosses driver, misses Valero cut

By Will GrayApril 21, 2018, 1:00 am

It wasn't quite to the level of his watery meltdown earlier this month at the Masters, but Sergio Garcia still got frustrated during the second round of the Valero Texas Open - and his driver paid the price.

Garcia had a hand in redesigning the AT&T Oaks Course along with Greg Norman several years ago, but this marked his first return to TPC San Antonio since 2010. After an opening-round 74, Garcia arrived to the tee of the short par-4 fifth hole and decided to get aggressive with driver in hand.

When his shot sailed well left, a heated Garcia chucked the club deep into the bushes that lined the tee box:

It took considerable effort for Garcia to find and retrieve the club amid the branches, and once he did things only got worse. He appeared to shank a chip once he got up to his ball, leading to a bogey on one of the easiest holes on a demanding track.

Garcia closed out his round with four straight pars, and at 2 over he eventually missed the cut by a shot. It marks the first time he has missed consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour since 2003, when he sat out the weekend at the AT&T Byron Nelson, Fort Worth Invitational and Memorial Tournament in successive weeks.

Garcia entered the week ranked No. 10 in the world, and he was the only top-20 player among the 156-man field. He missed the cut at the Masters in defense of his title after carding an octuple-bogey 13 on the 15th hole during the opening round.

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Daly-Allen team grabs Legends of Golf lead on Day 2

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 11:14 pm

RIDGEDALE, Mo. - John Daly and Michael Allen took the second-round lead Friday in the cool and breezy Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf.

Daly and Allen shot an 8-under 46 on the Top of the Rock par-3 course with wind gusting to 15 mph and the temperature only in the high-50s at Big Cedar Lodge. They had three birdies on the front nine in alternate-shot play and added five more on the back in better-ball play to get to 13 under.

''Michael and I go back to the South African days in the late 80s and playing that tour,'' Daly said. ''We've been buddies since. He's just fun to play with. We feed off each other pretty good. And if he's not comfortable guinea-pigging on one hole, I'll go first.''

On Thursday, they opened with a 66 on the regulation Buffalo Ridge course. They will rotate to the 13-hole Mountain Top par-3 course on Saturday, and return to Top of the Rock for the final round Sunday.

''I went to high school in Jeff City, so it's cool to have the fans behind us,'' Daly said.

Allen won the PGA Tour Champions team event with David Frost in 2012 and Woody Austin in 2016.

''I'm just here to free up John,'' Allen said. ''It was fun. Luckily, I started making good putts today. We just want to keep the good times rolling.''

Full-field scores from the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf

Defending champions Vijay Singh and Carlos Franco were a stroke back along with Bernhard Langer-Tom Lehman and Paul Broadhurst-Kirk Triplett. Singh and Franco had a 7-under 32 in best-ball play at Mountain Top, and Lehman-Langer and Broadhurst-Tripplet each shot 6-under 48 at Top of the Rock.

''Part of the issue here is all the tees are elevated, so you're up high hitting to a green that's down below and the wind is blowing, and there is more time for that wind to affect it,'' Lehman said. ''If you guess wrong on the wind, you can hit a really good shot and kind of look stupid.''

Former UCLA teammates Scott McCarron and Brandt Jobe were two strokes back at 11 under with Steve Flesch and David Toms and the Spanish side of Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez. McCarron-Jobe had a 47, and Jimenez-Olazabal a 48 at Top of the Rock, and Tom Flesch shot 34 at Mountain Top.

First-round leaders Jeff Maggert and Jesper Parnevik had a 52 at Top of the Rock to fall three shots back at 10 under. Madison, Wisconsin, friends Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly also were 10 under after a 32 at Mountain Top. Jay Haas aced the 131-yard seventh hole at Mountain Top with a gap wedge. Haas and fellow 64-year-old Peter Jacobsen were 8 under after a 32.