Ochoa Charges up the Leaderboard

By Associated PressJune 6, 2008, 4:00 pm
McDonalds LPGAHAVRE DE GRACE, Md. -- Lorena Ochoa trudged up a grassy mound to the right of the fifth green with a wedge in her hand, searching for a rare errant shot. She found the ball in the bunker, much to her relief, blasted over a steep lip and saved par.
That was all the trauma she could stand in one day at Bulle Rock.
It was the only fairway and the only green she missed. Ochoa was practically perfect Friday in the McDonalds LPGA Championship, making enough of her 17 birdie chances for a 7-under 65 and a one-shot lead over Lindsey Wright. There was no stress, no par putt longer than 3 feet, and not much to ruin a day when golf felt as simple as walking.
My best round in the season, Ochoa said.
It put the 26-year-old from Mexico in her favorite spot'atop the leaderboard at a major championship.
Ochoa had at least a share of the 36-hole lead in the Womens British Open at St. Andrews and Kraft Nabisco Championship, winning both those majors by a combined nine shots.
I think its just good to be in the lead because my name means something, you know? she said. In a way, thats what Im trying to do'to put pressure on other players and to let them know that you want to win.
Ochoas 65 matched her best score of the season and topped by three shots her best score in this major. She was at 10-under 134, the lowest 36-hole score at Bulle Rock since the LPGA Championship moved here in 2005.
Lorie Kane made three straight birdies to catch Ochoa in the afternoon, but the Canadian had to settle for a 70 and was two behind.
Three-time LPGA champion Annika Sorenstam tried to make a move with a 68, but she was still four shots behind. But she sounded as though she anticipated a duel with the No. 1 player on Sunday.
I think Im in good shape, Sorenstam said. I played well here in the past. Its a major, and 36 holes is nothing. The way Im hitting it, Im just waiting for the putts to drop. It could be a lot of fun.
Wright, who grew up in Australia and played college golf at Pepperdine, has never finished better than fourth on the LPGA Tour. She had the outright lead with a birdie on the 18th, but stumbled twice on her back nine until finishing with a birdie.
Kind of nice to come into the weekend in this position, especially when Lorena is leading the tournament, Wright said. Shes obviously the person to beat. When you see her up there, you know shes not going to make too many mistakes. It keeps me focused because I know I cant make too many mistakes. I have to make birdies.
Ochoa took the lead with one final birdie, a 20-footer on the 18th hole and curled into the side of the cup. Ochoa swung her leg and pumped her fist, happy to see the last putt fall on a day when she missed a half-dozen putts shorter than that.
Her longest putt for birdie was about 25 feet on the 13th hole. She missed three birdie putts inside 8 feet. And even as the temperatures began to climb, Ochoa barely broke a sweat.
It was very easy. I did enjoy it a lot, Ochoa said. Im going to try to do two more rounds like that.
Her work done, Ochoa headed to the movies with her brother to watch Sex in the City. But she departed Bulle Rock with her name atop the leaderboard, and it stayed there throughout the afternoon.
Morgan Pressel made seven birdies, but her round of 70 was slowed by five bogeys. It was the second straight major she played with Ochoa the first two rounds, and one good aspect is that she didnt need to see a leaderboard to figure out where she stood. In this case, Pressel was eight shots behind.
Pressels round was impressive on two counts'she often can rely on four of her fairway metals or hybrids in her bag while Ochoa had an iron, and the LPGAs youngest major champion had to use a different caddie. Jon Yarbrough learned Friday morning that his father had died after a long illness, telling Pressel in the parking lot and finding her a caddie from Bulle Rock named Matt Hall.
Yarbrough also had to leave before the Womens British Open last summer when his father-in-law died.
Pressel wound up keeping her yardage book.
I havent done so much math in a long time, she said.
As for the fairway metals?
Ochoa was walking toward the 10th green when she casually mentioned to Pressel that she had the same yardage'121'for the third time that round. Pressel couldnt help but roll her eyes.
Shes like, Shut up. Ive had five times 195 yards, Ochoa said, laughing. I was like, Im sorry, Im sorry, Ill shut up. Im not saying anything. And then I look at her and I said, Well, you put it closer than me. Because its true. The way she played today was very impressive.
So was the way Ochoa played, and it nudged her closer to another major.
The LPGA Tour said it will assume ownership of the LPGA Championship in 2010, and it will no longer have a title sponsor. The purse will be $3 million, and commissioner Carolyn Bivens said her preference would be to keep the tournament in the Northeast. Defending champion Suzann Pettersen shot a 68 and was five shots out of the lead. Ochoa on going to the movies: I like to have a hot dog and a Diet Coke and chocolate, she said. Sometimes I dont understand the English so I miss a lot of jokes. But its OK.
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