GUADALAJARA, Mexico (AP)—Lorena Ochoa has been the LPGA’s player of the yearthree straight times, a string that could end this week at her own tournament.
Threatening to ruin the party at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational is21-year-old South Korean Jiyai Shin. She has already won the rookie of the yearaward and leads Ochoa by four points in the player of the year contest.
Two tournaments remain, including next week’s LPGA Tour Championship inHouston.
“It’s been a year with a little bit more ups and downs,” said Ochoa, thegame’s top-ranked player. “The great thing is that I have the opportunity to beplayer of the year again. It’s going to be tough.”
Shin has won three times this season, and she won three times last year onthe LPGA Tour before she was even a member, including a victory in the 2008Women’s British Open. If she wins Ochoa’s tournament on Sunday—and Ochoafinishes eighth or lower—Shin will be the player of the year.
The last player to pull off the double was Nancy Lopez in 1978.
Shin also leads the season money list with $1.7 million, ahead of Japan’s AiMiyazato with $1.5 million. Ochoa is fifth at $1.3 million.
No South Korean—not even veteran Se Ri Pak—has finished No. 1 on themoney list, and no Korean has ever been player of the year. Shin is the sixthKorean to win rookie of the year.
“At the beginning of the season my goal was rookie of the year,” Shinsaid. “But I’ve already made that and now I have a chance for player of theyear, too. … There’s no pressure because I have already made my goal. Playerof the year is a bonus thing for me.”
Besides Shin and Ochoa, a few others have mathematical chances at player ofthe year, but they are long shots. They include: Cristie Kerr, Miyazato, YaniTseng, Suzann Pettersen, Na Yeon Choi and Angela Stanford.
The 27-year-old Ochoa has won three times this season, but she failed tocontend in any of the four majors. Of course, this season is being compared tothe three previous when she won a combined 21 times, including two majors.
She’s playing better after a midseason slump with top-five finishes in fourof her last five tournaments, including a victory in the Navistar LPGA Classic amonth ago.
But she’s acknowledged that planning for her marriage next month and otheroff-course obligations have been a distraction.
“I’m going to try to play like it’s any other week,” Ochoa said. “I’llconcentrate on my game and leave all the distractions outside the ropes.”
The 36-player field at the Guadalajara Country Club—where Ochoa learnedthe game—is small but loaded with the top 31 on the LPGA money list, and fiveplaying on sponsors exceptions. Included among the exceptions are Laura Davies,Natalie Gulbis and Juli Inkster.
“There is nothing nicer than playing at home,” Ochoa said. “I’m going todo my best to enjoy the event.”
And hope Shin doesn’t spoil it.