Clinical Klein tightens her grip

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Karrie Webb must be getting sick of playing with Emilee Klein. Last Sunday, Webb started two ahead and lost by two in the Ping Welch's Championship in Massachusetts. Yesterday, the pair played together again and the Australian slipped from five behind to eight back.

Winning the Weetabix British Women's Open last year was the springboard for the 21-year-old Webb for a stunning rookie year on the American LPGA tour. Klein, 22, from Studio City, Los Angeles has taken over the title role in what is becoming an annual revival of A Star Is Born at the Duke's Course at Woburn. At 14 under, Klein leads by six shots from Sweden's Maria Hjorth, who shot a 71.

Webb was spurred on 12 months ago by a policy of kisses for birdies from her caddie, Todd Haller. The couple have since split, both on and off the course, but back-to-back victories might enable her to keep Kenny Harms by her side. Harms has had an offer from Hubert Green of work on the Senior tour, but adding pounds 80,000 to her $75,000 prize of last week should enable her to match his pay increase

Klein hit more fairways than anyone else last week, and her ability to keep the ball on the fairways and out of the trees has helped on this tight course. Though she did not extend her streak of five sub-70 rounds in a row, Klein's two-under 71 leaves the pressure on her rivals to attack. Webb fell back with a 74, while Yorkshire's Alison Nicholas bogeyed the first three holes and Lisa Hackney, who has virtually clinched her Solheim Cup debut at St Pierre in Chepstow next month, birdied three holes in four before dropping back.

But the most surprising decline came from Annika Sorenstam, who has been runner-up in this tournament for the last two years. The qualities that have made her US Open champion this year, and last, lend themselves to this course. A birdie and an eagle on the two front-nine par-fives got her within two of the leader. But the next 12 holes were completed in three over. At seven under she is one behind Hjorth, who graduated with a BA honours degree in English from Stirling University in May.

Another good gallery was in attendance as the Duke's Course shimmered on a perfect summer's day, but they needed to gather early to catch world No1 Laura Davies's 8.06am tee time. After her second round 75, which saw her survive the halfway cut with only a stroke to spare, Davies had talked of being "terrified on every shot". But her early-rising supporters were well rewarded yesterday as she made only one bogey in journeying to the turn in 32. At the par-three 11th, a hole of 175 yards, she hit a nine- iron to six feet and holed the putt for her fourth birdie in a row.

This may be a reason for some satisfaction in some golfers, and Davies is one of the few golf professionals for whom a smile is part of their usual working uniform. Indeed, it was the realisation that wearing a smile rather than a scowl would help extricate herself from whatever predicament that she had put herself in, that has led to her winning 24 times in just over three years, almost half as many as she has won in 11 years as a professional.

But not now, not on this course. "I was just hanging on," was how Davies described her feelings as she stood five under for her round with seven holes to play. No more birdies were forthcoming and a bogey at the 15th was followed by a double bogey seven at the last. Her strategy on the 514-yard hole summed up Davies's dilemma at the Duke's.

Having taken her driver more often than usual, she pulled out a three- iron on the 18th tee, wary of the out of bounds fence down the right hand side. Her tee shot ended in the left rough, from where she tried to attack the green with her driver. That shot buried itself in the face of the bunker 50 yards short of the green. Her sand shot finished in rabbit scrapes right of the green, from where she got a free drop and she chipped to 20 feet and three-putted. "That was waiting to happen," Davies said.

The round promised more than a 71, leaving her at one under par. To Davies's relief the tournament moves to Sunningdale next year. A good finish will boost her chances of following Sorenstam's feat of winning the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic. In Europe, Davies is just pounds 955 in front of Helen Alfredsson, who shot a 69 to move to five under. On the American LPGA tour, for which this event also counts, she trails Webb by $17,100. By tonight she could be trailing in both.

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