Karrie Webb started an hour before the leaders at Victoria yesterday, and her first shot of the day was loaded with intent. It bounced in front of the first green and ran up to eagle-territory, just five metres from the cup at the short par-four.
The Australian two-putted for birdie, then birdied the second, too. The wind was up, and she welcomed it. This meant that her task was potentially easier, for no one up the front was likely to run away with the tournament.
Webb chipped away, the consummate professional. The wind howled out of the south but she kept control of her golf ball, and putted beautifully. The gap, five shots at the start of the day, gradually narrowed as the overnight leaders struggled. Chella Choi's drive at the second wedged in the boundary fence and was declared out of bounds; co-leader Minjee Lee struggled on the greens.
At the 11th, Webb rammed a 15-metre birdie putt into the cup and she had tied for the lead. Then at the par-four 13th, she hit a gorgeous iron shot to two metres from the flag, with the wind whipping the ball right-to-left, and rolled in the putt for the outright lead.
There were many more twists to come, but Webb would hold on. She was tied with Chella Choi as she stood on the 18th tee, and she knew a birdie would give her a chance of posting a score that could win, for Choi and Lee had seven more holes to play. She hit her second shot on to the putting surface and two-putted for a 68, posting 12-under.
One-by-one, the contenders dropped off until Choi, the 23-year-old South Korean, came up the 18th. She needed birdie for a playoff and her wedge shot to three metres from the flag gave her a chance. Webb, who had been keeping warm on the driving range and then the practice putting green, came out to the scorers' hut to watch.
Choi had scarcely made a putt of substance all day. It was a left-to-righter, and she stroked it well, but it stayed left, never hit the cup. The Korean would finish second at 11-under, and go away to rue the fact she had 34 putts, many of which stopped agonisingly shy of the cup. American Paula Creamer, France's Karine Icher and New Zealand's Lydia Ko tied for third at 10-under.
Webb embraced Noel Blundell, the sports psychologist who is rarely away from her side, and her manager, Tony Bouffler. She had a fifth Australian Open title, a 40th LPGA win, and -- by her count -- 52 career wins. Here was a player who knew how to win, knew how to close the deal, knew how to control the golf ball in the wind. A 68 in the third round had given her the smell of a chance. She was not about to throw it away. This is why she is a legend of the sport.
At 39 and approaching 20 years on tour, the woman from Ayr in North Queensland remains a formidable player, a world class golfer, still in the top 10 in the world. Already a hall of famer, her remarkable durability only adds to the tale. There is much debate as to whether she is Australia's best-ever golfer, in a race which usually includes Peter Thomson and Greg Norman. That the debate even occurs tells you how great she is, and has been.
A week earlier, she had been disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard at the Ladies Masters, a severe embarrassment for a player of Webb's accomplishments, but in a sense, it drove her forward. "A couple of years ago Stacey Keating signed for a wrong score at the British Open, and obviously she was devastated and she went and won the next two weeks that she played. She texted me last week and said 'remember what happened to me after I got DQd'. I actually thought about that as I was walking up 18, that it might come true for me as well. Definitely (it's) a different feeling from last week.''
Webb ensured that it would not happen again, to the point of being pedantic. "It's been very hard for me to walk out of the score tent this week, until they've checked my score card about four times. It's amazing what a difference a week makes.''
Players struggled in the wind; to Webb it was her friend. "I liked my chances at the start of the day because of the wind picking up. If we had another day like the first three days I was probably a little too far back to have a chance. I was thankful for that and I played as good as I have in a long time.''
Webb plays better when it is tougher, she feels, for she puts away the more technical thoughts. "When the conditions are milder, you try to be more perfect, I think. You should be shooting low scores. When the conditions are tougher, I get out of that mindset and I just feel the shot I need to. That's what I felt today.''
It was a wonderful tournament, and it is gratifying to know that the LPGA Tour, whose co-sanctioning of the event has run for three years, is looking to extend the arrangement. It is that relationship that ensures the best players in the world come to Australia, and it is critical to the future of the tournament, which will be back in the sandbelt next year, possibly at Royal Melbourne.
It was the first day that the winds came and the scoring average soared above 74, meaning that Webb picked up six shots to the field as the leaders drifted back. Overnight leader Minjee Lee could not sustain her brilliant run, as you might expect of a 17-year-old, and the Perth amateur shot 78, bogeying the final two holes as she unravelled.
Through 11 holes Lee was tied for the lead with Webb, with whom she stayed in America last year under a mentoring arrangement through Golf Australia. A master and apprentice scenario bobbed up, but never eventuated. At the par-four 12th, Lee 'thinned' a chip through the green, and a double bogey resulted. Finally, she caved in, but it does not change the fact that she is a huge talent with an outstanding future.
She was far from alone in her travails. The likes of world No. 2 Suzann Pettersen, who began the day with a chance to take the world No. 1 ranking, shot 80. At one point, there were five joint leaders -- Lee, Webb, Karine Icher of France, Choi and Mi Hyang Lee of Korea. There were many players who had a chance. Their only consolation was this: they were all beaten by an immortal of the game.