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Karrie Webb has chance to change focus to womens golf

Karrie Webb sat behind a table at the World Golf Village in December for a two-hour autograph session, golf bag at her side and a stack of magazines in front of her to sign from her first major championship, and sixth victory of the year.

"Are you a professional?" one man asked, speaking down to her as if Webb were a Girl Scout selling Thin Mints.

Webb forced a polite smile and nodded.

It was just another day in the life of the LPGA Tour's biggest star in two decades, one who has never received the attention she deserves.

That could be about to change.

While Tiger Woods returns to action this week in the Bay Hill Invitational, the attention slowly is shifting to Webb, who has much more at stake in Phoenix than simply defending her title in the Standard Register Ping.

It's a chance to win her fourth straight LPGA tournament, one short of the record Nancy Lopez set in 1978. And it's a chance to do something Webb has never managed, through no fault of her own.

She might be able to finally steal some of the spotlight from Woods.

"Karrie has done as well or better than Tiger," LPGA Hall of Famer Juli Inkster said. "She just doesn't have the TV support or media to have what Tiger has."

Woods won six in a row on the PGA Tour, all but one of them coming down to the 18th hole or a playoff. His victims included Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, and Davis Love III.

Webb has won half that many, though they were no less spectacular. She held off Inkster on a brutally windy day in south Florida, birdied the last two holes to overtake Lorie Kane in Australia, and birdied the last hole twice to win in a playoff over Annika Sorenstam in Hawaii.

"I don't get caught up in all of that," said Webb, who wasn't even aware of Lopez's record winning streak until after she won in Hawaii. "I think it's great that the media has taken to it. It's great for the LPGA. It's great for me. Every week, I think I have a chance to win."

Her record certainly backs that up.

In only four years and three events on the LPGA Tour, the 25-year-old Aussie has won 19 times, finished in the top three in 45 of her 101 tournaments, and is closing in on enough points for the Hall of Fame.

"Her B game can outplay many players' A game," Inkster said. "She can't win every week, but she has the desire to win. And she has no problem with being the best and having people chase after her."

The scoring record? Shattered last year, by more than half a stroke.

Money? She was the first woman to earn more than $1 million -- as a rookie, no less.

On the horizon is Mickey Wright's record of 13 victories in one season.

"She has raised the bar, and now the rest of us have to try to catch her," Laura Davies said. "I don't think everyone can, mind you. Karrie's special."

The only thing Webb lacks is a sense of timing. Every time she does something spectacular, it seems to get lost in the overwhelming shadow that is Tiger Woods.

As a rookie, Webb won four times and became the first woman to earn over $1 million in a season. That was the year Woods won his third straight U.S. Amateur, signed a $40 million deal with Nike, proceeded to win two of his first seven tournaments as a professional, and earn enough money in just eight events to finish 24th on the PGA Tour money list.

One star was born. Another was forgotten.

Last year, Webb won her first major with birdies on three of the last four holes to complete a thrilling comeback in the du Maurier, her sixth victory of the year. She only finished out of the top 10 twice and had a 69.43 scoring average.

Woods, meanwhile, shifted into another gear. He won eight times, set a record for adjusted scoring average, won the PGA Championship for his second major, and finished off the year with four straight victories, the longest streak in 46 years.

Webb became a blip on the radar screen next to Woods's jumbo jet.

Now she is on a Tiger-like roll, undefeated in 2000 and building enough of a mystique that her name on the leaderboard is worth a stroke or two.

"I might not make enough birdies to win, but I'm there," Webb said. "And they know I have the ability to make birdies. That's an advantage."

Webb and Woods are similar only in the way they win, and how often.

Even LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw is sounding a lot like his counterpart, Tim Finchem, who stopped predicting what Woods might do next.

"What Karrie does no longer surprises me," Votaw said.

As long as she keeps winning, the rest of the world will have to take notice.

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