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Webb looking for third Women's US Open

Thick rough lines the narrow fairways, hot winds gust from the south and west, and by the weekend, Prairie Dunes could be baking under a blistering sun.

If those conditions won't be challenging enough in the U.S. Women's Open, Karrie Webb also has this to consider: she'll be bucking history as well as the course, not to mention Annika Sorenstam.

Webb has won the last two U.S. Opens -- one of seven golfers to repeat during the tournament's first 56 years. No one has won it three straight times.

The Australian star knows that. She can't mention this tournament -- the third of the four majors on the LPGA Tour -- without being reminded that an unprecedented achievement is there for the taking.

She also insists she can't think about it.

``I've tried not to do anything different,'' Webb said Tuesday after her second practice round on the course, soaked by a morning rain. ``It's always going to be on my mind.

``But I've got four days of golf to play just to put myself in position to win in 2002 before even thinking about winning three in a row.''

Nor does she need those thoughts for motivation. This IS the U.S. Open, after all.

``Whether I won the last two years or never won at all, I would never look at it like that,'' Webb said. ``Just playing in the U.S. Open is enough motivation. It's just exciting to be here, and I feel my game is in good enough shape to compete against this golf course.

``The fact I'm going for three in a row is just an added bonus.''

Webb has won the last two Opens by a total of 13 strokes. Her eight-stroke victory at Pine Needles a year ago was the biggest margin in 21 years and was her first win in 2001.

This year, she has a victory to build on, winning the Rochester International two weeks ago. Her best finish before that had been a tie for fourth at the LPGA Championship.

``It's good that I won so I don't have to answer that question today,'' Webb said with a sly grin. ``Even if I didn't win, I still played very well on the last day and I did a lot of good things at the right times, which I haven't done as much as I would like this year.''

Webb took last week off to practice and continue fine-tuning her game. If ever she was ready for a major -- the 27-year-old player already has won the career Grand Slam -- this is it.

``I've seen a lot of things in the last couple of weeks that I feel good about,'' Webb said. ``I feel my game is at least good enough that I can try to be in contention in this tournament.''

But is it good enough to handle a tough course? And what about the Sorenstam factor? Sorenstam has won six times in 12 events this year, including three of her last four starts and four of her last six. She won the year's first major, the Nabisco Championship.

With more than $1.5 million in winnings already, Sorenstam is on pace to shatter the LPGA record of $2.1 million in earnings she set last year.

``Annika is playing unbelievable golf and consistently great golf every week,'' Webb said. ``You can't overlook her. I wouldn't be surprised to see her on top of the leaderboard at some stage during the tournament.''

The 150 golfers will be playing a course that literally was carved out of the Kansas prairie in the 1930s and is ranked among the top 20 nationally in various publications. The sand hills, constant wind -- there's little in these parts to break it -- and prairie grasses give it a links-style look similar to coastal layouts.

There's a premium on keeping the ball in the tight fairways, and golfers have to shoot at small, undulating greens. The rain made the 6,267-yard, par-70 course play longer on Tuesday, but temperatures are expected to climb into the 90s by the weekend -- hardening the greens and creating sticky, sultry conditions that will test a player's stamina.

``You have to be real smart,'' said Se Ri Pak, who won the LPGA Championship, the year's second major, last month.

``This golf course's winds, the rough is so long, the greens are small, I don't think it's very easy at all.''

Pak, who also won the City of Hope Classic this year and has five other Top 10 finishes, will be grouped with Webb the first two days. She figures that will help her play better.

``I always like to play with really strong players,'' Pak said. ``It makes myself mentally stronger. I know she's going to play good, and I just don't want to lose on the golf course. It's really exciting.''

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