Ochoa Eyes First Major No 1 Spot in World

By Associated PressMarch 28, 2007, 4:00 pm
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Lorena Ochoa finds inspiration just about everywhere she turns in the California desert.
 
She never came closer to winning a major than one year ago in the Kraft Nabisco Championship. The Mexican star tied an LPGA major record with a 62 in the opening round, only to carelessly throw away shots over the weekend. And despite a birdie-par-eagle finish to force a playoff, she left Mission Hills empty after losing to Karrie Webb in a playoff.
 
Lorena Ochoa
Lorena Ochoa is coming off her first win of the season last week at the Safeway. (WireImage)
'I didn't like the feeling of losing, kind of giving the tournament away after a great first round,' she said.
 
But the Coachella Valley is filled with positive vibes, too, for it was only five months ago at Bighorn that Ochoa produced perhaps her most significant victory to date.
 
She trailed Annika Sorenstam by three shots going into the final round of the Samsung World Championship on a course where Sorenstam had never lost and was going after a record sixth victory. Despite such daunting odds, the fearless Ochoa fired at flags and closed with a 7-under 65 to win by two.
 
It sent Ochoa on her way to winning LPGA player of the year and the money title, which had belonged to Sorenstam the last five years. And it allowed her to truly believe that being No. 1 in the world was only a matter of time.
 
Perhaps the time is now.
 
Ochoa can move to No. 1 in the women's world ranking and fill the only hole in her credentials with a victory in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, which starts Thursday at Mission Hills.
 
There is little to suggest she is not the favorite.
 
She is coming off a six-victory season that allowed her to sweep all the major awards. And she is coming off a victory last week against a strong field outside Phoenix, where she birdied four of the last five holes.
 
'I would say Lorena is playing very, very well,' Sorenstam said. 'Of course, I'm looking at the rankings the LPGA official money list. And so far, and right now, she's playing some superb golf. So I'm not surprised that the gap is smaller and smaller.'
 
The Kraft Nabisco is played on the same course every year, and the 101 players make it the smallest field among LPGA majors. It does not included Wie, who is recovering from a wrist injury.
 
In her fifth year on tour, about the only thing the 25-year-old Ochoa has not achieved is winning a major.
 
Her first decent chance came two years at Cherry Hills, a grueling test for the 2005 U.S. Women's Open. Ochoa was among the early starters and was poised to post a score of 3 over par -- the winning score that day -- until she hooked her tee shot on the 18th hole into the water and stumbled to a quadruple bogey.
 
Then came last year.
 
After opening with a 62, Ochoa led by at least three shots the rest of the week until her lead slipped away, first to Hawaii teenager Michelle Wie, then to Webb, who holed a pitching wedge from 116 yards on the final hole for eagle.
 
Unwilling to go down without a fight, Ochoa made birdie on the 16th, then hit 5-wood over the pond fronting the 18th green to 6 feet for an eagle to force a playoff. Webb won on the first extra hole.
 
'I was playing in the last group, a lot of pressure going on,' Ochoa said. 'And especially with Michelle Wie playing so good, the crowd was cheering so hard for her. And all of a sudden, Karrie made an eagle. There are things you cannot control.'
 
Ochoa was more discouraged by how she played in the third round, when she had a chance to put it away.
 
But the week wasn't a total loss.
 
'They made me a better player,' she said. 'I know how much to trust yourself and to be good under pressure, manage the lead, a lot of emotions going on. It really taught me and helped me to be a more consistent player throughout the 2006 season.'
 
What would winning a major mean? For starters, a big party in Mexico.
 
It was a return for Webb, who dominated the LPGA seven years ago until losing confidence as she rebuilt her swing. Webb lost in a playoff at the LPGA Championship to Se Ri Pak and she wound up with four victories and second on the money list.
 
Webb, with seven majors, believes it won't be long before Ochoa picks up her first.
 
'What did she shoot, 10 under the first round? Really, it was her tournament to win after that and she didn't get the job done,' Webb said. 'I think she really learned from that because later in the year, she had a couple of tournaments where she had leads and won. And then at Samsung, she beat Annika down the stretch.'
 
Sorenstam, however, is still No. 1 in the world ranking. But instead of talk about a Grand Slam, the questions focus on how much longer the Swede can stay on top.
 
She is 36, branching out into business, thinking more about starting a family.
 
And yet a part of Sorenstam isn't willing to let go that easily. She hasn't been seriously challenged by anyone since Pak won the '02 LPGA Championship, and Sorenstam blew her away the rest of the season, then left everyone else in her wake the next three years.
 
But she won only three times last year, and in her first tournament this season, she lost a two-shot lead with three holes to play against unheralded Meghan Francella in Mexico.
 
'I'm happy to be back this year with a better swing, and just feeling that I have the game again,' Sorenstam said. 'I think if I just perform, things will fall into place, the right place. And there's nothing really I can control other than that.'
 
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    Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

    New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

    The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

    "Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

    It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

    Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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    Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

    By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

    SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

    Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

    He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

    Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

    Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.



    The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

    ''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

    Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

    He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

    Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

    Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

    ''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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    13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

    Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

    Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

    “An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”



    Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

    Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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    McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

    It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

    Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

    Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    “I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

    Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

    “Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

    This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.