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Laura Davies set for Australian Open defence

Laura Davies defends this week's MFS Women's Australian Open at Royal Sydney Golf Club, three years after she won the title at Concord , New South Wales , in 2004.

The European number one hinted that she is close to her best form, but suggested that Karrie Webb is the player to beat after a superb comeback season in 2006, when she won five LPGA tournaments and finished second on the US money list.

“If you're one shot ahead of Karrie this week then you're going to win,” Davies predicted.

“I was looking at the odds on her to win the LPGA money list, (not that we're allowed to bet on it), but I did notice that she was nine to one and that seems a very generous price. I plan to keep close to her and just nick her to the last few holes because undoubtedly she'll be right there.”

Webb, the current World number three, won her seventh major championship last year, the Kraft Nabisco, and later added a further four victories. She has won her national Open twice before – in 2000 and 2001 when it was played at Yarra Yarra Golf Club. Neither she nor Davies has played at Royal Sydney before.

Webb has re-iterated her goal to become World number one. “ I feel like I have the ability to be the best player in the world again and you know, that's the very far distant carrot,” she said.

“I always want to come home and hopefully put on a good show and have a chance to win, both this week and next week (at the ANZ Ladies Masters on the Gold Coast).”

Webb has been training hard since January, which should send a shiver or two down the spines of her rivals at Royal Sydney. The Australian number one has her game face on and is hungry for her first Tour title of 2007. 

Another player keen to win is Natalie Gulbis, who is yet to secure a professional title. Gulbis was invited by tournament bosses to bring an added element of glamour to the event, which reignited the debate on using sex appeal to sell women's golf.

The California blonde, who posed for a racy photo shoot for lads' mag FHM and who has her own website, beachwear calendars and a reality TV show, has made no secret of her marketing savvy but support from her colleagues was unanimous.

Webb said: “I think that if a girl chooses to do that I have absolutely no qualms about it whatsoever. I've never felt that great about my body, I guess to parade it in that way, but you know I think you take any opportunity you can to promote yourself, to promote the sport.”

Davies added: “It's just fortunate for us that some of our best players now are good looking girls as well and people like to see the girls playing.

“They don't sell the men's tour on the ugly ones. They sell it on the good looking ones. You see all the posters up. I think it's lucky for them that Tiger is a really good looking bloke.”

Tournament chairman Paul McNamee made no apologies for trumpeting the sport's sex appeal, saying: “ I think women's sport needs to be unashamedly glamorous.” The issue of whether golf should sell itself through sex appeal has long been a recurring theme but for now, Gulbis is happy to be known as golf's Anna Kournikova.

“It's a very flattering comparison for sure,” she said. “I never actually had the chance to meet Anna but I know that she did a lot for women's tennis and also for women's sport.”

When prompted, Gulbis admitted that she would prefer to win a few more tournaments than her tennis counterpart.

The 15th Women's Australian Open, which takes place from February 1-4 th , gives her the perfect opportunity from which to start.

February 1, 2007


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