Webb prevails in stormy conditions

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The World No 1, Karrie Webb, shot a flawless five-under-par 68 to set a challenging target after a wild and windy first round of the Weetabix British Women's Open at Royal Birkdale yesterday.

The World No 1, Karrie Webb, shot a flawless five-under-par 68 to set a challenging target after a wild and windy first round of the Weetabix British Women's Open at Royal Birkdale yesterday.

The Australian, winner of this event in 1995 and 1997, birdied the eighth and ninth to be out in 34 and then made further gains at the 13th, 14th and 17th in a solid round.

Julie Forbes led the early British challenge with a one-under par round of 72 after finishing with two birdies, while her fellow Scot Janice Moodie went one better, two-putting the long 17th for birdie and then making an eagle from 15 feet at the par-five 18th.

Webb showed ominous form as she set about winning her eighth title of a season in which she has won two majors - the Nabisco Championship and the US Open. "I played great today and I love it when it's blowy like this," she said. "It gives the course character and keeps you on your toes."

Laura Davies, the winner when the event was last held at Birkdale in 1986, made a faltering start. She missed a tiny birdie putt at the first, took a double-bogey six at the third and dropped another shot at the short fourth to stand at three over.

Sherri Steinhauer, the American defending champion, also struggled. She had a double-bogey and a triple-bogey in a round of 77 at the start of her bid for a history-making third successive win.

The world No 2 from Sweden, Annika Sorenstam, was happy with her 70, saying: "I hit 15 greens and thought I played really well. I love it here. I love the golf course and the conditions. Every hole is very unique."

Sorenstam also supported the move for the event to become an official major next year. "For me it's the fifth major now. It has the tradition and I think it deserves it," she added.

WOMEN'S BRITISH OPEN British Open (Royal Birkdale) Early first-round scores (GB & Irl unless stated): 68 K Webb (Aus); 70 B Iverson (US), A Sorenstam (Swe); 71 L Maritz (SA); 72 J Forbes; 73 K Stupples, A Berg (Swe), K Booth (US), J Moodie; 74 M Baena (Col), LA Mills (US); 75 J Mills (Aus); 76 L Depaulo (US), D Reid; 77 P Sterner (Swe), V Stensrud (Nor), C Schmitt (Fr), J Bartholomew (US), S Steinhauer (US); 78 EJ Clifford, G Scott (NZ), M Adamson (SA).

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