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Webb & Sorenstam to resume battle down under

The 2002 Evian Ladies European Tour begins in earnest on Thursday morning as the best players in the World compete in the season opening $Aus750,000 ANZ Ladies Masters at the Royal Pines resort near Surfers Paradise on Australia's Gold Coast.

Defending champion Karrie Webb from Australia will be looking to create history with a fifth consecutive win in this event, having retained the title since her first victory in 1998.

Last year, Webb equalled England's Laura Davies' Women's world record of four straight tournament titles. The big hitting Briton set the record in 1997 when she won the Standard Register PING in Arizona four years running.

Webb also joined such legendary golfing names as Gene Sarazen, winner of four consecutive Los Angeles Open titles in the 1930's, Walter Hagen, winner of the USPGA Championship from 1924-27, and Tom Morris Jr. who retained The Open Championship from 1868 onwards.

"I'm looking forward to this week," said Webb, who plays with European number one Raquel Carriedo of Spain and Sweden's Maria Hjorth in the opening two rounds.

"I feel good about this tournament, I know I can score on this course and I've had a lot of success so there are really no bad thoughts there for me. None of the field has played a tournament for at least a couple of months, so it should be interesting."

The event publicity proffered a boxing style showdown with posters on almost every wall and lamppost in the Gold Coast, and the 27-year-old World number three from Ayr will have tough opposition in "The Main Event".

Current World number one and 1995 Ladies Masters Champion Annika Sorenstam from Sweden is pictured alongside the Australian on the billboard and plays here for the first time since finishing second to Webb in 1998.

The 31-year-old Swede rewrote the record books in her amazing 2001 season, winning eight times and became the first woman to shoot golf's magical number with a 59 at the Standard Register PING in Arizona.

During the off season, Sorenstam trained even harder than she did before her record breaking season and believes she can improve on her amazing 2001 season.

Last season the Swede trained four times each week and has now stepped up the work ethic to five or six. Her days are filled between two hours of fitness with her new German born trainer, and the remainder working on her game.

"I'm shooting for a better year," said the Swede who has Australian Rachel Teske and American Solheim Cup player Kelly Robbins making up the three-ball in the first two rounds.

"I want to set new goals compared to last year, it might be in a different way than the amount of tournament wins, but I'm still working very hard. I want to be a better player and that is what I am focussing on.

"There's a lot of room for improvement, I believe that you can hit 18 greens, 18 fairways and I think you can make every putt, so starting right there, there is a lot to improve."

Apart from aiming at breaking her 59 by five shots, Sorenstam has the chance to earn valuable Solheim Cup points in her limited schedule on the Evian Tour and realises that now is the time to get in the hunt for one of the seven automatic team places.

"That's important," added the four times European team member. " That's why I'm here, I only have four planned events on the European Tour this year and I don't have too many points, so hopefully I can gather some this week."

Six more players from the World's top 20 have also entered the event, including Hjorth and Sophie Gustafson from Sweden, World numbers five and 15 respectively, Australian World number 11 Rachel Teske, winner of the 2001 Evian Masters and the Scots pair of Catriona Matthew and Kathryn Marshall.

And Spain's Paula Marti, who won the ALPG Championship last week near Sydney, will be looking for a fast start to her campaign for a place in The 2002 Solheim Cup team.

With double points available this season for any top ten places in official Tour events, Marti, who makes up a big hitting trio with Gustafson and England's Laura Davies in the first two rounds, is determined to be a part of Dale Reid's Team Europe as they take on the USA at Interlachen GC in September.

"That is my main focus of the year," said the Spaniard, who has signed a sponsorship deal in the off-season with equipment manufacturers PING.

"To get into The Solheim Cup team would be a dream come true and I think it would be fantastic if we could beat the USA again and I want to be part of that team.

"It was great to start off the year so positively and now I am going to try and get into the top ten in every event to get points. The win has given me a lot of confidence and I am looking forward to this week to test myself against the best players in the World.

"I have already played with some of the legends of the game and I look upon it as an honour playing amongst these players."

Rookie of the year Suzann Pettersen from Norway arrived late in Australia having spent six weeks on a Florida course practicing from the men's back tees in preparation for this season.

The 20-year-old from Oslo, who plays alongside Matthew and US Solheim Cup player Nancy Scranton on the opening two days, is eyeing up a Solheim Cup berth and knows that she must be competitive in the big events on the longer courses.

The heavy bandaging from her long term ankle injury is now gone and having recently been the recipient of a painful cortisone injection for a bone splinter in her elbow, the French Open champion can't wait to get started this season after a frustrating and painful winter.


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