Webb alive and kissing

British Women's Open: Davies fades as Australian grabs lead at the last
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The Independent Online
KARRIE WEBB met her fiance Todd Haller last September, a month before she became a professional golfer, and the romance endures despite the sometimes precarious relationship between player and caddie. There are compensations, as when Webb notches up a score under par. "We have an agreement - kisses for birdies," she explained. And for eagles? Embarrassed silence. "Two kisses," came the eventual reply.

A 40-foot putt across the final green to clinch an eagle certainly deserved celebration as she leapfrogged American Val Skinner to take a one-shot lead into the final round of the Weetabix Women's British Open. Her four- under 69 leaves her on 208, 11 under par.

The kissing started early in her round as Webb, an Australian in her rookie season who led overnight, holed from 25 feet for a birdie at the first. Out in 34, she birdied the 10th, played a superb chip from a fern- filled gully to three feet at the 12th to save par, and exchanged a birdie and bogey at the 16th and 17th. Despite turning 20 last year, she remains like a star-struck teenager.

"I held it together today and I'm happy I did," she said. "I don't know how many people thought I would." The Australian Amateur Strokeplay champion last year, she chased Laura Davies home to finish second in the 1994 Australian Masters. "I rang my parents on Friday night to tell them I was leading and they already knew. That shows how big this event is."

That Webb's nearest rival today is not the world No1 is hardly surprising. Davies wishes to see the championship move away from the tight, tree-lined course that is as dry as the sponsor's biscuit; even restoring acquaintance with her driver failed as she slumped to a 77.

The galleries, though, love heading for junction 13 of the M1, and a record 13,260 turned up yesterday. The three-day total for this year is only just short of last year's 32,000 for the week.

Skinner, too, is delighted to return after her ninth place a year ago. The only American in the top 10 of the US LPGA money list to cross the Atlantic, Skinner, grew up in Nebraska and is an "admiral" in the state's navy. "It's an honorary thing. Where I am from is virtually the dead centre of the United States. But my parents live on a lake and have a boat." Three birdies on each nine in her 67 initially gave her the lead, as most of the other contenders fell away.

Tied in third, three behind Skinner, are defending champion Lotta Neumann and the two US-based Englishwomen, Suzanne Strudwick and Caroline Pierce.