British Open has field worthy of a major

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The women's British Open may become a major next year. This week it has a field - and a major championship venue, Royal Birkdale in Southport - worthy of it.

The women's British Open may become a major next year. This week it has a field - and a major championship venue, Royal Birkdale in Southport - worthy of it.

World number one Karrie Webb of Australia heads the cast and has no doubt this should become the fourth major on the women's tour if, as expected, the Du Maurier Classic in Canada loses its status because the cigarette makers who sponsor it can no longer do so by law.

Her rivals this week include world No. 2 Annika Sorenstam of Sweden, No. 3 Juli Inkster, who won two majors last year, fellow-American Meg Mallon, the winner in Ottawa on Sunday, Sherri Steinhauer, going for a record third successive victory and leading Briton Laura Davies, the world No.4.

As an Australian neutral with no axe to grind and a two-time winner of this title Webb's opinion on a new major cannot be discounted.

"I don't see another tournament on the LPGA Tour that for me could be a fourth major," she said today.

"The rotation of courses we have here now is unbelievable," the 25-year-old Queenslander added.

Two years ago the event was played at Royal Lytham, like Birkdale a regular stop on the men's Open Championship rota.

And after Sunningdale next year, it will be played at Turnberry in 2002 - another Open Championship site - and back at Lytham the following year.

Webb, who won six times last year and who has already won seven titles including two majors this year, is already smitten by Birkdale.

"I love it. Even in today's five-hour pro-am, I was interested right to the last hole.

"You have to create shots and be able to hit low into the wind. People who can't will be in trouble. You're going to get bad bounces and you have to be patient. There could be five different ways to get the ball on the green.

"It is so different from what we have week in, week out in the States."

Webb, as dominant in the women's game as Tiger Woods is among the men, said she has taken to the gym to build up her strength, just like Woods.

"I do stuff on weeks off and a lot of stretching during tournaments," she said.

"I have a workout routine at home where I work on flexibility and on strengthening the areas of my body that are weak."

Webb, who won at Woburn in 1995 and Sunningdale in 1997, could not claim a third major title of the year on Sunday at the Du Maurier Classic in Ottawa.

"It would have been good to win but I didn't play that well and I still finished seventh," the Australian said. "I made a lot of careless errors and didn't make a lot of birdies so I did well to get in the top 10."

Steinhauer rates retention of the title at Woburn last year as "a great accomplishment, one I was really proud of."

And while she would love a three-peat, "I can't look at the weekend yet because so much can happen. I just have to be prepared, take it slowly and not get ahead of myself," she said.

She did not expect the winning score to be under par.

While Steinhauer missed the cut in Ottawa, Davies just made it after rounds of 74-75 but then followed up with 79 and 83 for 73rd and last place.

"My game was rubbish and, on the plane home on Sunday, I was wishing I wasn't even playing here because I felt so miserable about it," Davies said.

"I played well in Ottawa for 40 holes but made nothing. Then I started hitting it really badly off the tee. And as I missed more fairways I swung quicker and if just got worse and worse."

But she said she has played well here the last two days and will use a new putter this week.

Davies' only victory in this event was back in 1986, the last time it was played at Royal Birkdale.

"That was too long ago to remember the course or the shots," she said.