Webb and Pak give Sorenstam major company

Now this is pretty cool: Three Hall of Fame players still in their prime appear as if they are ready to go at each other in what could make the second half of this LPGA season more than a little fun to watch. Forget all those talented kids in women's golf for a minute, Se Ri Pak and Karrie Webb are back to give Annika Sorenstam a run for her money as best in the women's game.

With Webb winning the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April and Pak capturing the McDonald's LPGA Championship on Sunday, that can only make us crave one thing: Sorenstam winning the U.S. Women's Open in July, and the Weetabix Women's British Open in August becomes the rubber match to determine queen of the hill.

Good things in golf, it seems, come in threes. There was Harry Vardon, Ted Ray and James Braid at the turn of the last century. Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead dominated the 1940s and '50s. Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus ushered the game into the TV era in the 1960s. Now the women's game seems as if it may have a backdrop of history against which the impressive wave of considerable young talent can play itself out.

For the first time in almost a half-decade the three best female players of their generation are playing well at the same time. Even though Sorenstam has now gone eight consecutive starts without a victory -- an eternity for her -- it seems like a drought only because we have been spoiled by the standard of greatness she has set. Even though Sorenstam has only one victory this year, she has finished in the top 10 seven times and, as her four-birdie run Sunday en route to a final-round 68 and a T-9 at the McDonald's indicated, she is only a few made putts away from being dominant again. This time she will have company.

Oddly, Webb and Pak both seemed to lose their passion for the game in the same manner: They were both too good too soon. Webb had qualified for the Hall of Fame by the age of 25, and Pak had earned enough points to get in by the age of 26. Unlike Sorenstam, who accumulated her Hall of Fame points by the age of 29, Webb and Pak seemed to lose their motivation and their enthusiasm. "I came out here when I was 19 and had success right away," Webb said. "I didn't know it was supposed to be hard." She knows now, and so does Pak. And both appreciate the skills they have more now than ever.

While it may be true that misery loves company, it is equally true that success breeds success. Not only has Webb fed off her own triumphs, but Pak gained energy from them as well. "It felt so great to see her win again," Pak said about Webb's victory at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. "And I knew that sooner or later it would be me again." It came sooner rather than later.

The numbers piled up by the Big Three are impressive indeed. Sorenstam has 67 LPGA victories with nine major championships. Webb has 32 wins and seven majors, while Pak has taken home 23 trophies, including five majors.

That Webb and Pak should be staging their comebacks in a year in which Sorenstam is having trouble finding her rhythm might be more than a coincidence. Sorenstam had been so dominant the last five years it had become demoralizing for Webb and Pak. Now she seems, to them, to be beatable. And in the first two majors of the year she has been.

While Sorenstam's game flickered to life Sunday at the McDonald's, there is still work to be done. "Obviously, I am not playing as well as I was last year at this time," she said afterward. "My game is at about 75 percent. I'm waiting for the other 25 percent to kick in. I must have misplaced it."

Webb, meanwhile, appears to be all the way back, contending virtually every week now. And while Pak has to back up her win at the McDonald's, the mere fact that she got her first victory in more that two years in a major speaks well of the state of her game, and the state of her mental attitude.

The thing that really makes the return of Webb and Pak to the stage to challenge Sorenstam for supremacy in women's golf is the role players around them. Lorena Ochoa has emerged as a contender for Player of the Year. Paula Creamer, Ai Miyazato, Morgan Pressel and Seon Hwa Lee are a formidable foursome all under the age of 21. And Cristie Kerr is playing with a new maturity that could very well earn her a major title in the near future. Throw in a veteran like Juli Inkster and the game's most prominent member of no tour -- Michelle Wie -- and you have a pretty impressive assemblance of talent.

When the year started, predictions abounded that this would be a breakthrough season for the LPGA, that the masses would finally realize what a great product it has and how entertaining the competition is. That conversation usually involved speculation on which of the kids would stand up to Sorenstam. You would have made a lot of money if you bet that the first two majors would be won by Webb and Pak.

The Big Three will next square off June 29 at the U.S. Women's Open, a tournament they have won a combined five times.
Happiness, a wise friend of mine once said, is having something to look forward to. Indeed, anticipation is a powerful force, and the best thing about Webb and Pak returning to major-championship form is looking forward to seeing them compete again. How cool would it be to have Sorenstam join them in a final-round shootout at Newport Country Club in the Women's Open, joined by a few members of their supporting cast? Now that's entertainment.

Ron Sirak is the Executive Editor of Golf World magazine.