Karrie Webb returns to one of her favourite hunting grounds this week.
Karrie Webb would have been feeling a nice, warm sense of deja vu as she arrived at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, this week for the first of the women's majors for 2013.
Seven years ago almost to the day, Webb played arguably the most famous golf shot of her stellar career, holing out with a perfect wedge from 105 metres for an eagle at the par-five 18th hole at Mission Hills to vault into a playoff in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, traditionally the opening major of a new year.
An exultant Webb jumped into the arms of her longtime caddie, Mike Patterson, then drained a birdie putt at the first playoff hole to win the most recent of her seven major championships, celebrating with the mandatory winner's leap into Poppie's Pond, near the 18th green, all of which is part of this particular major.
Mission Hills is a particular favourite of Webb's -- aside from her win in 2006, she has had five other top-five finishes -- so she will be among the favoured picks this week. As the world No. 14, Webb has had a solid start to the year and was tied for sixth in her most recent start on the LPGA Tour, at the Kia Classic.
At 38, the World Golf Hall of Fame member is a doting superveteran by comparison with the likes of New Zealand amateur Lydia Ko, who will tee it up in California this week aged 14. But Webb has indicated she has no intention of retiring from the touring life until after golf makes its return to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. She is still playing well and most importantly, still has not lost her zest for competing.
"Kraft Nabisco is one of my favourite events of the year,'' Webb told Golf Australia this week. “I've traditionally played quite well here. I think it's a combination of the course suiting my game, and the atmosphere of the event. There is a lot of history, the players know and the crowd know. There's not a player who doesn't want to jump in the lake if they win!''
The leap into Poppie's Pond, generally done with a player's caddie but sometimes accompanied by sundry family members and friends, has been a Mission Hills tradition for 40 years. Webb has done it twice, and the set-up of the 18th hole, protected by a stream in front, makes this tournament something special. Players are required to walk a pathway to the green which takes them directly past the grandstand, where they will high-five with patrons. Stacy Lewis, the new world No. 1, this week called it ''the best walk in golf''.
Women's golf has had a shake-up in the early tournaments of 2013. Yani Tseng's dominance of 2011 and the early part of 2012 has gone; she lost her world No. 1 ranking to Stacy Lewis, the feisty competitor from Texas, recently. Lewis came under the radar but she is a sensational pressure player, and she is adjusting to the fame that was slow to come. "It's been chaos is what it's been,'' she said this week, tongue only partly emplanted in cheek.
The top contenders for to steal her No. 1 ranking are Tseng and Na Yeon Choi, the brillinat Korean world No. 3 who has a particular issue with this tournament and specifically, Poppie's Pond. Choi has a lifelong fear of water, although she said this week her caddie would shelter her through the issue if required.
The history of the Kraft Nabisco is rich, and sometimes painful.
Korean In Kyung Kim missed a putt from just 35 centimetres to win last year, ultimately lost a playoff, and condemned herself to what might be a decade of answering questions about her mistake. But Kim is back again looking for that elusive win. "I learned a lot,'' she told the media this week. "I think last year was a big turning point of my life of learning what is important.''
Australia has four competitors -- Webb, Lindsey Wright, Sarah Jane Smith and Katherine Hull-Kirk -- with the veteran still the standard-bearer. "My game is in pretty good shape,'' said Webb. "I played well at Kia for three days, but wasn't quite as sharp in the last round (she shot 74). All in all I've had a decent start to the year and I've been working with Triggsy (coach Ian Triggs) so hopefully I get my game sharpened by Thursday.''
Webb says a good driver is favoured at the par-72 course. "You have to shape the ball both ways,'' she said. "If you miss the fairways, the rough is usually pretty long and thick, which makes it hard to hit the greens and give yourself birdie opportunities. There is some course knowledge with putting on the greens as well.''