Ochoa Victory Could Signal LPGA Power Shift
The way Sorenstam had been rolling over opponents and piling up trophies, the 36-year-old Swede quickly was approaching Whitworth's 88 career victories. Sorenstam had averaged nearly nine wins a year since 2001 -- at that pace, she could have broken the record before her 40th birthday.
But that sprint has slowed considerably.
With two tournaments remaining on her 2006 schedule, Sorenstam has won three times this year, her lowest output since winning twice in 1999. Part of that is the balance she has found in her life, including a golf academy she is opening in Orlando, Fla.
And part of that is the competition.
Ochoa's victory in the Samsung World Championship was her fifth of the year. It not only denied Sorenstam her 70th career victory, it kept her from setting an LPGA record with six straight years leading the tour in victories.
One tournament doesn't make a season. One victory doesn't mean there's a new sheriff in town.
Sorenstam is the five-time defending champion at the Mizuno Classic in Japan in two weeks, and the two-time defending champion at the season-ending ADT Championship. She could win them both and capture the money title, maybe even LPGA player of the year.
But there was something symbolic about the way Ochoa ran her down in the desert.
Starting the final round three shots behind, Ochoa sensed this was her time. She erased the deficit in three holes with two birdies and a 45-foot eagle putt. The pivotal hole was No. 10, and some luck was involved. Ochoa made a birdie putt from across the green that would have gone well past the hole had it not banged into the back of the cup and dropped in the side.
Even so, it was as if Ochoa saw this coming.
She was asked after the third round whether she could beat Sorenstam.
There was a pause, and a slight smile crept across her face.
'You want more?' she said, as if to say, 'Isn't that enough?'
Then she obliged with a beautiful blend of giving Sorenstam her due and having a quiet confidence in her own game, something not often heard from today's wannabe challengers who grow up talking about wanting to be No. 1.
'I know she is tough. I think she is a great player. She knows this course so much better than me and she has so much experience, and I respect all that,' Ochoa said. 'At the same time, I believe in myself. I'm in a good position right now. I know I can do it.'
Ochoa had played against Sorenstam two other times in the final group. She blew a four-shot lead in the final three holes and lost to Sorenstam in a playoff in Phoenix last year, and Sorenstam birdied the final hole in Sweden this summer to win by one shot.
The young Mexican star has had her share of stumbles.
Along with that collapse in Phoenix, she had a chance to win the U.S. Women's Open at Cherry Hills last year when she duck-hooked her tee shot into the water on No. 18 and took a quadruple-bogey 8. And while she made eagle on the 18th hole to get into a playoff this year at the Kraft Nabisco, Ochoa blew a three-shot lead in the final round and lost on the first extra hole.
'When you make mistakes your first year or second year, you get them out of your way and then you make good things come,' she said. 'I'm a positive person, and I learn a lot and it's not going to happen again, those bad shots.'
Maybe the best is yet to come, especially in the majors, the one gap in her credentials this year.
And that won't make it easier for Sorenstam.
Motivation has never been an issue with Sorenstam. Even when she failed in her bid to win the Grand Slam, either after the first major or the third, she was a master at redefining her goals and achieving them.
What she has lacked over the last five years is serious competition.
Ever since Karrie Webb eased into the background after dominating the majors for three years, the closest anyone has come to challenging Sorenstam's supremacy during the last five years was Se Ri Pak, a battle that didn't last long.
Just as it is with Tiger Woods, the gap is as big as Sorenstam wants it to be.
Ochoa is different. She set an NCAA record by winning eight straight tournaments at Arizona, and she has never finished lower than ninth on the LPGA Tour money list in her four years. Unlike the American youth getting all the hype, Ochoa delivers.
Sorenstam's swing has not been up to her standards this year, and she said last week that some mechanical issues have cost her length off the tee, problems that she was trying to fix as the season wound down. Ochoa was driving the ball slightly longer than Sorenstam at Bighorn, and she is a superior putter.
Their duel in the desert bore a minor resemblance to Woods and Vijay Singh in Boston two years ago, when Singh beat him head-to-head in the final round to replace Woods at No. 1 in the world. Singh went on to win nine times that year and dominated golf until Woods returned to the top with six victories the next year, including two majors.
Singh, however, was 41 and headed toward the twilight of his career.
Ochoa is 24 and just getting started.
Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?
Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.
Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”
Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.
Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.
The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.
Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters
JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.
Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.
Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.
Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational
Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.
The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.
Rose leads Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs
JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose completed the final two holes of his second round early Saturday for a 3-under 69 and a one-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters.
Rose, who had a first-round 62, was among a quarter of the field forced off the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course after weather delays on Friday.
The Englishman, who bogeyed his last hole, had a two-round total of 13-under 131.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who completed his 64 on Friday, was in second place.
Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters. He has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season.