Driving home the point: Gulbis again tries for victory No. 1

Back home in Las Vegas after a grueling golf season, Natalie Gulbis didn't devote much time to shopping or even a short vacation.

"I spent every day of my offseason working on my game," Gulbis said of her practice sessions with coach Butch Harmon. "Driving accuracy that was the biggest problem that I had last season."

Gulbis, 24, came closest to her first career victory last year, losing in a playoff at the Jamie Farr tournament after shooting a 65 in the final round. Also last year, she passed the US$2 million (Ђ1.5 million) mark in career earnings at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, where she tied for third for her best finish in a major.

Traveling to Australia for last week's Australian Open at Royal Sydney and confident after her intensive sessions with Harmon, Gulbis had her optimism hit hard by a final-round 81.

That left Gulbis at 14-over par, 24 shots behind winner Karrie Webb and with plenty of work to do before this week's ANZ Australian Ladies Masters, a tournament co-sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour.

"I was extremely disappointed, and not only with the way I played on Sunday," Gulbis said Wednesday after her pro-am round at Royal Pines.

"I mis-hit a ton of shots, made a lot of doubles (bogeys) probably five or six doubles through the week. I had a lot of work to get for this event after the way I played last week."

Gulbis was one of only two players LPGA player of the year Lorena Ochoa was the other to finish in the top 20 in all four majors last year, and Gulbis also had five top-10 LPGA finishes in 2006.

But Gulbis, whose rookie season was 2002, said there's no additional pressure for that elusive first win.

"I put pressure on myself every single day," Gulbis said. "Out practicing at 5:30 a.m. to execute shots today in a pro-am. Every day."

Gulbis said she had "three or four" birdies in Wednesday's pro-am and predicted a low score would be needed to win over a Royal Pines layout that she said was in "excellent" condition.

Fellow American Brittany Lincicome, winner of last year's world matchplay championship and tied for fifth last week at Royal Sydney, said her long-hitting ability would help around the resort layout here.

In Wednesday's pro-am, Lincicome reached nearly all the par-5s in two, including a 7-iron into the ninth.

"I heard 20-under was going to win, and it's definitely going to be low," said Lincicome. "I had seven birdies today and I didn't even play that great."

Amy Yang, who won the Masters here last year as a 16-year-old amateur, turned professional in October and is back to defend her title.

Yang, who is skipping 12th-grade classes at nearby Robina High School to play this week, beat Catherine Cartwright in a one-hole playoff last year.

Yang has played three tournaments since turning pro, finishing tied for fourth in the Dubai Ladies Masters, third in the Mauritius Open and 20th at last week's Australian Open.

"My short game is better around the greens," Yang said of her improvements in the past year. She admitted she could beat Webb "if I have a good week."

Webb, who has won Ladies Classic five times, including four in a row from 1999 to 2001 and again in 2005, said she arrived at Royal Pines feeling tired after her six-stroke Australian Open win, reports AP.

Webb, who won five tournaments in a resurgent 2006, said she's wary of how she'll perform here after her Royal Sydney experience.

"I think the only time last year that I had to play after I had won a tournament was after I won the Evian Masters and then I played the British Open and missed the cut by a million," Webb said.

"For me it's not as easy. I have to make a concerted effort to watch how much I do."

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