Webb tips teen ace Ko to make mark at Open
Karrie Webb during a pro-am at Royal Canberra Golf Club on Wednesday. Photo: Colleen Petch
The last time Karrie Webb played at Royal Canberra, she was a teenage schoolgirl who cracked under the pressure of her first big tournament.
After backing 15-year-old New Zealand prodigy Lydia Ko to contend at this week's Australian Open, Webb said it only made Ko's achievements all the more remarkable.
Still to turn professional, Ko became the youngest player to win a professional tournament when she took out last year's NSW Open.
Having won her homeland's national tournament last week, the world's top-ranked amateur has resisted the urge to turn professional.
But Webb believes if you're good enough, you're old enough. ''Obviously, she's proven that she's ready to play professional golf,'' Webb said.
''I think you could say she's one of the hottest players in the world right now. To say you'd actually be predicting a 15-year-old amateur could be on the leaderboard [is surreal], but it wouldn't surprise me if Lydia Ko was on there at the same time.
''The technology of teaching, I think kids are getting taught correctly at a younger age, with equipment that fits them.
''Those things lead to it being possible for a 15 or 16-year-old to compete at the elite level.''
Webb's sole previous appearance at Royal Canberra was in 1989, when her game froze in the Canberra cold.
Fast forward 23 years and seven majors, and she's now one of the greats - not intimidated in the slightest by this week's crack women's Australian Open field.
The world No.12 enters the $1.2million event as one of the favourites after securing her eighth Australian Ladies Masters crown a fortnight ago.
It would be fitting if she could register her 50th professional victory this week, on a golf course where she took some of her first tentative steps.
''I played here a long time ago. I was only 14,'' Webb said. ''It was the Australian Girls' Championship, one of my first big tournaments. I didn't play very well at all. I think there was a 90-something thrown in there at one point.''
This tournament has attracted nine of the world's top 10 players, including world No.1 Yani Tseng and world No.3 Stacey Lewis.
But Webb said it has been a while since she's felt as good at the start of a year. She knows her best is good enough to compete with the best.
''I don't really have a look at it, obviously there's certain players you expect to see on the leaderboard,'' she said. ''I think playing the back nine will be the key. There's a middle stretch on the back nine where there's a couple of really challenging par fours. ''It's a great old traditional golf course. With the heat we had in January, I think they were worried about losing the fairways and the green, so the course has definitely had plenty of water on it.
''It just needs to dry up a little bit because I think that will be when it plays its best. It's a bit soft right now, but with the good weather forecast I think it will be fine.''
Webb finished in a disappointing tie for 56th at last year's Australian Open, but after her Gold Coast win feels she is better prepared to contend for her fifth national crown.
She also believes the Australians will have the advantage, having played on the local tour while overseas players had their feet up.
''I'm glad I have a tournament under my belt and am ready to play this week,'' she said.