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Webb pulls away from pack

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GURNEE, Ill. — With every birdie putt she made, Karrie Webb gave a small, hard pump of her fist.

Nothing obnoxious, of course, it's still Saturday. But the world's No. 1 golfer is pulling away from the field at the U.S. Women's Open and moving closer to the title she wants more than any other.

Webb birdied four of her first seven holes and finished with a 4-under-par 68. Her 7-under 209 gives her a four-stroke lead over Meg Mallon, the leader after the first two rounds, but no other player is within seven strokes of her.

Mallon gave chase with birdies on the 15th and 16th holes to get within two strokes of Webb. But she fell off with a double-bogey on 17 and finished with a 1-over 73 for 213.

Betsy King, who started the day tied with Webb at 3 under, fell out of contention with a 10-over 82 after hurting a muscle in her lower back on the second hole. She got treatment, but was in obvious pain the rest of the round as she made six straight bogeys at one point.

"I don't know if I'll be able to play tomorrow or not," King said.

She had tears in her eyes as she walked up the 18th fairway, and Mallon, her playing partner, patted her on the back.

With its slippery greens, strong, shifting winds and thick, tangly rough, the Merit Club has been brutal on players all week. Saturday was no different as only six players managed to shoot better than par. Webb and Mallon are the only players under par for the tournament.

But just as Tiger Woods had little trouble with Pebble Beach at the men's U.S. Open last month, Webb is cruising through the Merit Course. She missed only two of the first nine fairways, and missed only two greens. She never three-putted, and had only two bogeys her entire round.

It's fitting she's turning in a Woods-like performance at the Women's Open. While Woods has been almost untouchable on the PGA Tour, Webb has been his equal on the LPGA Tour this season.

She won four of the first five tournaments she played, and finished second in the other. Throw in victories on the Australian and Japanese tours, and she's already won six times this year. Woods has won five times.

She won her second major in record-setting fashion, lapping the field at the Nabisco Championship by 10 strokes in March. It was the largest winning margin in the tournament's history. Woods won the U.S. Open by 15 strokes, the largest margin EVER at a major.

And if she and Woods both win today — Woods has a six-stroke lead at the British Open — they'll each have won three of their tour's last four major championships. Webb won the du Maurier Classic last year for her first major title.

Webb has endured a little bit of a drought, going since March without a victory. But she's only finished out of the top 10 twice, and her worst finish was a tie for 18th last week at the Big Apple Classic.