GURNEE, Ill. — Karrie Webb had no idea when she teed off Sunday how hard it would be to claim the U.S. Women's Open trophy sitting not 10 feet away.
She dunked a tee shot in the water and blew a four-stroke lead before collecting herself, playing the back nine with a steely resolve that buried her challengers and gave her the trophy she's wanted so badly.
After birdieing the 18th hole, Webb hugged Meg Mallon, her playing partner, and Evan Minster, her caddie. She finished at 6-under 282, five strokes ahead of everyone else.
The world's No. 1 golfer has won three of the last four major championships. She won the du Maurier Classic last year and the Nabisco Championship earlier this season, and needs only the LPGA Championship to complete the career Grand Slam.
It seemed only fitting that Webb won this weekend. Just as Tiger Woods has dominated the PGA Tour, Webb has been his equal on the LPGA Tour, winning 21 times in 4 1/2 years. On Sunday, just about 20 minutes before she teed off, Woods completed his career Grand Slam with a record-setting victory at the British Open.
"You kind of feel like there's a sense of fate in it all," said Cristie Kerr, who finished tied with Mallon for second at 1-under 287. "When people tee it up with Tiger, they're playing for second. When Karrie plays well, we kind of all feel like that."
Even when Webb doesn't play her best, she makes it very, very hard to beat her. She won by five strokes despite shooting a 1-over-par-73, her worst score of the week.
She looked so vulnerable after her tee shot on the par-3 7th bounced into the water, dropping her into a tie with Mallon who birdied No. 9. But Mallon bogeyed three straight holes on the back nine.
Mi Hyun Kim came within a shot, but she, too, fell off. She went into the water on the 16th hole and missed her bogey putt, finishing tied with Rosie Jones at even-par 288.
Like all champions do, Webb recovered and finished strong, making birdies on 10 and 18. As she walked up the 18th fairway after putting her ball on the green, she grinned and slapped hands with Minster.
She wins $500,000, the largest prize ever in women's golf. She also gets a $250,000 bonus for the Nabisco Grand Slam Challenge. 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.
The victory also gives Webb the points she needs to qualify for the Hall of Fame. With 27 points, three major championship titles, two Vare trophies for lowest scoring average and one player of the year award, all she needs now are 10 years on the LPGA Tour. She will be eligible for induction after the 2005 season.
Webb said this week that this was the one tournament she's always wanted to win, 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 the first hole, 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 75 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.