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WEBB, SORENSTAM FORGE MAJOR RIVALRY

According to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, "rival" is defined as "one of two or more trying to get what only one can have."

Unlike the current state of men's golf, which really has no rivalry other than Tiger Woods against the history books, the LPGA can offer Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb, Nos.1 and 1A on that food chain. Or maybe the other way around depending upon the date on the calendar.

Sorenstam, a 30-year-old Swede, finished first on the money list in 1995, '97 and '98. Webb, a 26-year-old Australian, took the honors in 1996, '99 and 2000. Neither was worse than fourth in that span.

This year, Sorenstam is first, followed by Webb. Sorenstam has won five times in 12 starts, including the Nabisco Championship in March, to go with two seconds and a third. Webb didn't win until three weeks ago. But that was the U.S. Open. She has finished second three times.

The third major of the season, the McDonald's Championship, teed off today at DuPont Country Club. It's an event neither has won. In fact, other than Sorenstam's third-place showing in '97, neither has posed a serious challenge. Webb actually missed the cut in 1999.

LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw keeps insisting there are a lot of good stories on his watch. If he's lucky, it'll be Sorenstam and Webb playing together in the final group on the back nine Sunday.

"Obviously, Annika has played well at the start of the year," Webb said. "I think that when one player is playing well, you want to get your game into the right shape so that you can compete against them. I don't believe her play changes my goals, because my goals are set for me.

"I have a lot more respect for all the players out here than just saying it would be more special to come down the stretch and win the championship with Annika chasing me or me trying to beat her. It would be (special), just because I know that I have to play my best golf to beat her. A win's a win. It's special no matter who finishes second.

"To me, a rivalry is when two people (go after) each other in the press and don't like each other very much and have no respect for one another. That's not the case (here).

"You know, I have the utmost respect for Annika's game. . . . As good as we've both played, we are bound to come head-to-head every once in a while. If that's your description of a rivalry, then I guess it is. But by my definition, it isn't."

Strange as it seems, they haven't been paired that often. When Sorenstam won the Nabisco, Webb finished tied for second. But it was a distant second. When Webb won the Open, Sorenstam tied for 16th.

"I think there is a rivalry, a friendly one," Sorenstam said. "The way she played the last few years has motivated me to play even better. I want to be the best player out there. I mean, I like a challenge. I love the competition. I think it's great for the game.

"If you win, you want to beat the best. But if she finishes second or whatever, that doesn't matter. It's just knowing that she's in the field. . . . I was No. 1 (in the world) for a while, then she was No. 1. So that's got to be exciting, if you watch it from the outside.

"I grew up watching tennis a lot, and it was Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. That's exciting. I would not mind being a dominant player at the end of the night. That would be great."

Both women have expectations. They are not friends. But neither are they enemies. When Sorenstam became the first female to shoot a 59 in a competitive round this season, Webb wrote her a note. "Very classy," Sorenstam said.

Later this summer, they will compete in a "friendly" match with Tiger and David Duval. Sorenstam will be paired with Woods, in an alternate-shot format. "I think the way ABC wanted to promote it was the No.1s take on the challengers," Webb said. "I think that's how it all worked out. I'm just happy to be in the foursome."

You think if she wins this week, they might have to reconsider the draw? "I kind of like the format," Sorenstam countered. "I want to play with Tiger."

Two years ago, Webb had yet to win her first major. Now she's won three. She can complete the career Grand Slam by adding an LPGA title. Which would also leave her one major ahead of Sorenstam.

Don't think nobody's counting.

"This was a focus of mine at the start of the year," Webb said. "I've had a good run. I peaked at the right time at the Open. This is one major where I think I've yet to keep my patience for four rounds. I think if I achieve that this year, I'll have a good shot."

The Sorenstam camp no doubt seconds that devotion.

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