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Top field for Women's Australian Open

Six players from the World's top 20 have gathered on the world famous Melbourne sand belt for this week's $Aus500,000 AAMI Women's Australian Open, played at the immaculate Yarra Yarra Golf Club from February 28 - March 3.

Sophie Gustafson from Sweden will be aiming to repeat her success of last year but will have tough opposition from World number three Karrie Webb and Rachel Teske from Australia, England's Laura Davies, American Kelly Robbins, Maria Hjorth from Sweden and European number one Raquel Carriedo.

Webb, who lost in a playoff against World number one Annika Sorenstam at last week's ANZ Ladies Masters, will be looking to go one better and repeat her 2000 success around the tricky 5534-metre course, designed by Augusta National course designer Dr Alistair Mackenzie.

With small, heavily undulating greens surrounded by mischievous bunkering, to provide a stern short game test, Webb believes the key this week will be solid course management and a premium on putting.

"Putting this week will be a lot tougher than last week," said the 27-year-old from Queensland who plays with rising Spanish star Paula Marti and Korean Soo-Yun Kang in the first two rounds.

"The greens here are totally different (to last week at Royal Pines), the speed of the greens are much quicker. At Yarra Yarra, if you are above the hole with a lot of putts, you are going to do really well to two-putt. The distance of your irons into the green is at a premium because the greens are more undulating and a lot quicker. You have to have an all round game to win here."

Davies, whose best result is third behind Webb in 2000, has won over 60 tournaments around the world - including 34 on the Evian Ladies European Tour and 20 on the LPGA. And after her fourth place finish at Royal Pines with closing rounds of 66 and 68, the 38-year-old from Surrey is determined to win her first strokeplay event on Tour since the 1999 Compaq Open.

Having been close to quitting the game this time last season, Davies turned to PGA Tour player John Daly for advice on her driving, which by her own admission was driving her "insane".

"I met John at a charity day in Minneapolis, he knew I was struggling with the driver. He gave me a couple of ideas and since then, I have been driving it good," said Davies, who joins Carriedo and Australian Jane Crafter in the opening two rounds.

However, England's finest-ever female player did not concur with Webb's plan of attack at Yarra Yarra for this week, preferring not to play conservatively, instead, to give the driver a good airing.

"There are a lot of holes you can't use it (driver), but the par fives for sure, the long par four 14th and I am going to have a crack at the first if the wind is down," added Davies who has been practising more regularly now and found more confidence and inspiration to win again.

"I do actually practice a fair bit when I am struggling, but when I am playing well, it's not in my interest to stand there, I get bored and stop doing the good things. When you see me practising, you know there is a good reason. When I am not practicing, it's because I am pretty confident and I'm not practising at the moment.

"The drive I have is even more now because I was number one for three years, it was all very easy. I can never say it became boring, but it certainly seemed very easy at the time and I am sure that Annika, Se Ri (Pak) and Karrie are feeling at the moment. But when you are chasing them, it's probably more fun."

Gustafson is one of Europe's best players and produced a spectacular finish last year in the AAMI Women's Australian Open to beat Webb by one stroke. She also won her third LPGA Tour title in 2001 at the Subaru Memorial of Naples.

The Swede, who plays with Teske and 2001 Rookie of the Year Suzann Pettersen from Norway on the first two days, is looking forward to another memorable week down under.

"It was great winning here last year and this course holds a lot of happy memories," said The Solheim Cup star.

"The course is in much better condition this year, but my game is still a little rusty and on top of that I've managed to get a bad neck, so I am off to see the chiropractor - but I am still going to give it a good go this week and we'll see what happens."


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