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Rookie Webb Keeps Up Amazing Season

May 5, 1996

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Karrie Webb took her amazing rookie season to a new level Sunday, holding off some of the best players on the LPGA Tour with a 6-under-par 66 to win the Sprint Titleholders Championship.

Webb tapped in for birdie on the 18th hole for a one-stroke victory over Kelly Robbins. Her 16-under 272 earned her $180,000 from the $1.2 million purse.

Webb won the HealthSouth Inaugural earlier this year. She also has two second-place finishes and was no worse than seventh in her first six tournaments.

In the richest event on the LPGA Tour, she handled the tricky breezes, overbearing heat and the pressure like a hardened veteran by hitting all 18 greens and coming up with the crucial putts when she needed them.

``I’ve done things I’ve never dreamed of doing,″ said the 21-year-old Australian.

Webb was standing in the first cut of rough in the 18th fairway when Robbins holed a 25-foot putt for eagle to pull into a tie at 15-under.

``I didn’t know what it was for,″ Webb said. ``But when I saw she was so excited I knew it was for eagle. I knew I had to put a good swing on it. That was a great shot.″

Her 3-iron from 200 yards on the par-5 hit the center of the green and rolled through the fringe just into the short rough, leaving her a relatively easy chip and one-foot putt for the victory.

Robbins, who flubbed a chip at No. 15 and took a bogey, also shot a 66. Defending champion Val Skinner three-putted on the par-5 13th and couldn’t get back to the lead, finishing third at 274.

``I knew that bogey was going to be costly,″ Robbins said. ``Making bogey coming in here is always going to be tough to get back.″

Third-round leader Catrin Nilsmark, Laura Davies and Tina Barrett finished tied for fourth at 13-under. Pat Bradley was another stroke back, and U.S. Open champion Annika Sorrenstam was at 277.

Of those in the hunt after the third round, only Webb was willing to offer what kind of score it would take to win at an LPGA International course that was primed to yield a low number _ a 67 if the wind was manageable, she had said, maybe even a 65.

``I thought if I got off to a good start I’d have a chance,″ she said Sunday afternoon, wearing the green jacket of a Titleholders champion, part of the tradition that was revived this week.

Starting the day three strokes off the lead, she hit a 7-iron to six inches on No. 1, and when she made a 12-footer for birdie on No. 9, she was tied with Nilsmark and Barrett at 14-under.

By the time she made a nervy 3-footer for par on No. 12, Skinner and Robbins had made it a five-way tie for the lead at 14-under. All but Webb gave a stroke back.

Barrett bogeyed the par-3 17th, Nilsmark and Skinner three-putted on No. 13 and Robbins took bogey on 15. Webb rolled in an 8-foot putt on 14 to get to 15-under, then knuckled down for the final four holes.

``I saw that I had a two-shot lead,″ she said. ``Even though it was two shots, it felt like a bit of a cushion.″

She almost gave it back on 15 when she lifted her head on a 35-foot putt up the ridge and came up 10 feet short. Her caddy and fiance, Todd Heller, lined up the putt behind her until she was locked in, then whispered to himself, ``C’mon, Karrie, c’mon,″ as he walked away and watched the ball fall into the center of the cup.

``That was a big putt,″ she said. ``It’s always good to be put under that kind of pressure and produce what you need to.″

The victory puts Webb atop the money list again and has cemented her status as the most exciting rookie on the LPGA Tour since Nancy Lopez.

``I’d like to win a major,″ she said. ``I’m going to be out here a long time, so if I don’t win one this year, I won’t be too disappointed.″