Tired Webb and Sorenstam don't regret Bighorn battle

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The Independent Online

Three days after a made–for–TV exhibition featuring Tiger Woods and his screaming, camera–flashing fans, Karrie Webb and Annika Sorenstam stagger bleary–eged into their next tournament on Thursday which just happens to be a major.

They admit that Monday's alternate–shot foursome in California with Woods and newly crowned British Open David Duval wasn't the best preparation for the British Open, golf's newest major.

But it was fun.

After a 12–hour flight away from the heat and wind of the Bighorn club at Palm Desert, Webb and Sorenstam, currently the best two players in women's golf, have made it to leafy Sunningdale, 30 miles (42 kilometers) west of London, where they had time for one practice round at the par 72, 6,277–yard course.

How did they feel?

"I don't know what I feel," Webb said. "All I know is that the sun's up, I have to be awake and play golf. That's about it.

"It's pretty fair (to say it's not good preparation for a major)," said the Australian, who won the British Open here in 1997 for the second time in three years.

"But it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I feel that I have got plenty of British Opens ahead of me.

"You don't see mixed teams in golf very often. It was exciting to be in that foursome. The group was the four very best players in the world and it was good to be part of it," said Webb who teamed up with Duval and was on the losing side at the first extra hole.

"The conditions were really tough. The course was set up more like a US Open than for an exhibition but to be in that foursome. Tiger Woods is the biggest thing in golf right now and his crowds are just pretty unbelievable. It happened that they were a little out of control. It's fun to witness that and just be a part of it."

Although she enjoyed the atmosphere, the U.S. Open and LPGA champion felt the crowds were a little unfair.

"It was pretty hectic," the Australian said. "The guys' galleries are a lot different from our galleries, willing three putts and stuff. That happened to us at the 16th. To me that's not a typical golf crowd. It was the first time I have ever heard anything like that.

Sorenstam, winner of the year's other major, the Nabisco Championship at Mission Hills, also admitted to being a little mentally dazed.

"Where am I?" the Swede said at a pre–tournament news conference. "I'm very tired, I must admit. It's been a long flight.

"Normally I come in early. I want to get adjusted to the time and the weather so to come from extreme weather to a totally different golf course is not the best preparation. But I had a great time and it was worth every minute of it."

Sorenstam also found the atmosphere totally different from what she's used to on the womens' tour where she has won five tournaments this year including four in a row.

"I wanted to play well. We were on display," she said. "But, once we started hitting balls, I realized the conditions were just so tough.

"It was very noisy. People were screaming. We don't get that kind of crowd. Especially when it was dark, the cameras were flashing everywhere. It was a totally different atmosphere.

"The difference (here) is night and day," she said. "The crowds here, they will be more reserved. They know about golf. They don't scream or shout. Whenever we got to the tee it was like 'hit the driver'. All day long, that's what we heard."

Rivals such as defending champion Sophie Gustafsson and home town favorite Laura Davies didn't criticize Webb and Sorenstam for taking part the one–night match at Bighorn so soon before a major.

"I think they were absolutely right to make the decision," Gustafsson said. That was a great opportunity for them. It's going to be a slight disadvantage for them but I think it was worth it."

Davies, who has won four majors but hasn't triumphed in the British Open since 1986, said she would have jumped at the chance.

"It's the sort of thing I would have done, given the invite. I still think they're going to compete this week. And, if they don't win, it's not because they weren't here early."

Webb said she didn't look open Monday's exhibition as some kind of flag–waving message on behalf of women's golf.

"I don't want to be the Billie Jean King of golf," she said in a reference to the tennis champion who successfully campaigned for equal prize money for women in her sport.

"The media promoted it as the battle of the sexes. If it were, I wouldn't just be doing it for me, I would be doing it for all of women's golf and that's way too much pressure on my shoulders."

The Australian also played down her chances of winning a third British Open.

"I don't really feel like my game is where I want it to be compared with just over a month ago (when she won the second of her 2001 majors). It's a shadow of that," she said. "But I have gone to tournaments feeling like that and won them."