(Surfers Paradise, Queensland, February 19 2003) Australia’s Karrie Webb begins as hot favourite to regain her title at the $Aus800,000 ANZ Ladies Masters at Royal Pines resort, the first official event of the Ladies European Tour season, which starts on Thursday.

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The 28-year-old from Ayr in North Queensland has been dominant around the East course here, winning the event four times in the last five years, but lost in a four-hole playoff to Annika Sorenstam last season while she was on the verge of becoming the first player in history to win the same event for five consecutive years.

Webb will again have strong opposition from both continental Europe and America. And with 22 of the top 50 players in the World in attendance, the field is the strongest in its 14-year history.

“I feel really comfortable around here,” said a slim and svelte Webb, who has shed four kilos and admits to being in peak physical fitness for the season ahead.

“It’s a perfect place for me to start the year,” she added. “This time last year, I wasn’t truly happy with my swing and I was happy to get into the playoff with Annika, but I’ve been working pretty hard for three weeks over Christmas and I’m really happy with my swing.”

In the first two rounds, Webb is paired with two Solheim Cup stars, European number one Paula Marti and American Laura Diaz, who won twice on the LPGA last season, finishing seventh on the money list.

And hoping to keep her run of at least one victory in each year of her career is England’s Laura Davies, who is in confident mood after finishing runner up at last week’s ALPG Players Championship.

Davies almost pulled off a miraculous comeback from nine shots behind going into the final round and set a new course record to force her way into a playoff, which she lost at the first extra hole to Australian rookie Tamara Hyett.

Davies tees off in the first two rounds with Australian Michelle Ellis and Lorena Ochoa from Mexico, who has been described as the ‘next Nancy Lopez’ of women’s golf, coming to the professional ranks after an outstanding amateur career.

“My confidence is back,” said Davies, twice an ANZ Masters winner. “I’m hitting the driver really well and making a few putts, so I’m ready for the next couple of weeks.”

Also making the long trip over from America is the LPGA Rookie of the year Beth Bauer, a 22-year-old from Florida and the runner up, 19-year-old Natalie Gulbis from Sacramento.

And most of last year’s European Solheim Cup team are in attendance. Suzann Pettersen from Norway, Scotland’s Mhairi McKay, Sweden’s Sophie Gustafson, Iben Tinning from Denmark and Karine Icher from France, will all be hoping for a fast start to the season to earn double points for any top ten finish this season and make the top seven automatic spots in the team for the mouth-watering match in September.