Originally created 04/29/00

Gustafson leads but Webb lurks close behind



STOCKBRIDGE, Ga. -- Karrie Webb returned from a month-long vacation to put herself in position for another victory on the LPGA Tour.

Despite fading down the stretch, Webb shot a 4-under-par 68 Friday in the opening round of the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship and lurked just three shots behind leader Sophie Gustafson.

"I left a couple of shots out there," Webb said. "But when you've taken four weeks off and come back to shoot 68, that's a good score. I'm right in position for the weekend."

Even though 46 of the top 50 money-winners are playing at Eagles Landing Country Club south of Atlanta, everyone's watching Webb. The 1999 player of the year has been dominant during her first five tournaments in 2000, winning four times and finishing second by two shots in the other event.

"Karrie has no weakness in her game," said Val Skinner, who was two shots off the lead after shooting a 67. "She is parallel to Tiger Woods on the PGA Tour."

The 25-year-old Australian started out like she was going to blow away the star-studded field. Webb stood at six under through 10 holes and only one shot behind Gustafson, who already was in the clubhouse.

But Webb, who played the back nine first, struggled through the rest of the round like a mere mortal. She bogeyed No. 3 -- a short par-5 that's a par-4 for members -- after her second shot landed in the creek that trickles in front of the green. Then, she missed a 12-footer for par at the final hole to lose another stroke to Gustafson.

Webb took advantage of a lull in the schedule -- only one tournament since her victory at the Nabisco Championship on March 26 -- to spend some time fishing and playing golf at her home in Boynton Beach, Fla.

"Generally, I'm pretty happy with my round," she said. "I made some mental errors. I was little tired -- mentally, not physically. That's natural when you've had four weeks off."

Gustafson, seeking her first victory as she plays her second full season on the tour, finished with an eagle at No. 18 to hold a two-shot lead over Skinner and Amy Fruhwirth. Webb was tied at 68 with Michelle McGann.

The 26-year-old Gustafson overcame a double-bogey at 14 by making several long putts, including a 30-footer for birdie at 1 and another 30-footer for eagle at 3. She also made a 20-foot birdie at 8 and completed her round with a flourish at the 465-yard 18th, knocking a 4-iron within 15 feet and making the eagle putt.

"I was able to hit the ball good out there today and I had some putts that went in," said Gustafson, who benefited from playing in the morning when the wind was calmer and the greens softer after heavy overnight rains.

Skinner, 49, is a six-time winner on the LPGA Tour but her last victory was in 1995. She bogeyed her first hole, sailing an 8-iron over the green and into a back bunker, but that was her only major mistake. Skinner had six birdies and 11 pars the rest of the way.

"For some reason, I was very patient and I hung in there," said Skinner, who has won only $6,263 this year and missed the cut in three of her four events. "When the chances came, I was able to make it and that was the key."

Fruhwirth, seeking her second LPGA victory, also started with a bogey but played her final seven holes in five under, including a streak of four straight birdies.

"I hit straight and long off the tee and I had some good iron shots into the green," she said. "Overall, it was kind of a boring round."

But even those who were ahead of Webb after the first day know they must keep an eye on her this weekend.

"You just try and keep up out there," Skinner said. "She has really raised the bar out here for all of us. Her play is extremely impressive and there is no need to look at the leaderboard when she is out there, because you just know that you have to be three or four under just to assure that you keep up."

Webb played in a threesome with Nancy Lopez, serving as official host of the $900,000 tournament for the first time, and Lorie Kane, runner-up in the Chick-fil-A for two straight years. Lopez and Kane both struggled to 73s.

Defending champion Rachel Hetherington, who beat Kane in a playoff last year, was nine shots off the lead after a 74.