Majors a Major Dilemma for Lorena

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2007 Kraft Nabisco ChampionshipRANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- The comparisons between Tiger Woods and Lorena Ochoa are inevitable, and mostly accurate.
 
Woods gave the PGA TOUR a two-week head start in Hawaii, made his debut at the Buick Invitational and won by eight shots. Ochoa also skipped the first two LPGA Tour events in Hawaii, started in Singapore at the HSBC Champions and won by 11.
 
Woods has won 18 times on the PGA TOUR since the start of the 2006 season. Ochoa has 16 victories. They are No. 1 in their respective world ranking by more than double the margin of No. 2.
 
And over the next two weeks, both are overwhelming favorites to win the first major championship of the year.
 
But thats where the parallel paths come to a fork in the road.
 
Woods has four green jackets from the Masters, not to mention a career full of positive vibes at the majors. He captured the career Grand Slam at age 24, before he had completed four years on the PGA TOUR.
 
Despite her dominance, Ochoa arrived at the Kraft Nabisco Championship to face some demons.
 
She loves Mission Hills, where she first played as a teenager. The affection she gets in the California desert rivals that of her native Mexico, with someone waving a red, white and green flag on just about every fairway. Ochoa sheepishly mentioned that she asked tournament officials for 100 tickets for her family and friends, and she was willing to pay for them.
 
I have great memories, and I have a lot of support from people that comes from Mexico and cheer for me, Ochoa said Tuesday. Its just someplace that feels good. Im ready to have a good week. Ive been close a few times, and hopefully, this is the year.
 
She is being modest about close calls.
 
Ochoa should have won this major by now.
 
Two years ago, she tied an LPGA major record with a 10-under 62 in the opening round and still had a three-shot lead going into Sunday until a meltdown on the back nine. Ochoa recovered with an eagle on the final hole to get into a playoff against Karrie Webb, who won on the first extra hole.
 
Ochoa was tied for the lead going into the weekend last year and looked poised as ever until she missed the par-3 17th green, whiffed on a wedge, took three putts once she got on the green and took quadruple bogey that effectively knocked her out of the tournament.
 
Moments like that are what makes winning even harder.
 
The Kraft Nabisco is the only LPGA major that has been played on the same course every year, which makes it similar to the Masters in that respect'and only that respect. Augusta National does not have a Wienermobile next to the practice green.
 
Geoff Ogilvy spoke recently about why the Masters has such a long list of players who never won a green jacket, and he mentioned the familiarity of the course breeding so much contempt.
 
There are demons that dont go away, Ogilvy said. If you have a few close calls at the U.S. Open, youre always doing it somewhere else. If you have demons at Augusta, which everybody does, guys always remember.
 
Great as she is, Ochoas biggest challenge will be to bury those memories.
 
I already erased them, she insisted. I only feel good things about this course, and good vibes and good memories. Of course, youre going to make mistakes and have a few bad holes, like what happened on 17 last year. I struggled on holes 13, 14 and 15. They were holes that I played over par, and Im going to work on those this year and make sure I play that stretch in a positive way.
 
And I think that will really help get a good result on Sunday.
 
What might help this year is no longer having to answer questions about winning a major. Even after she replaced Annika Sorenstam at No. 1 in the world at the end of the 2006 season, Ochoa had a reputation of being unable to win the big one.
 
There was the U.S. Womens Open at Cherry Hills in 2005, when she duck-hooked a tee shot into the water on No. 18 and made 8. The two failures at Mission Hills. Last year at Pine Needles, she again was poised to win the U.S. Womens Open until she couldnt find a fairway over the final five holes.
 
But she has been a different player since capturing her first major in the Womens British Open at St. Andrews, an historic afternoon in so many ways. That was the start of a stretch in which Ochoa has won seven times in 12 starts, a winning percentage that rivals Woods.
 
Comparing mens and womens golf is about as practical as comparing generations, but there are similarities worth noting.
 
Woods can finish a brilliant season and spend the next few months figuring out a way to get better. Ochoa worked harder than ever during her long offseason, especially on her putting. And she is much longer off the tee, even reaching the 310-yard 14th hole Sunday at the Safeway International, which she won by seven shots.
 
Youre never there, Woods often says.
 
And when Ochoa was asked where she could improve, she mentioned everything from learning to rest to communicating with her caddie. She finished at 22-under par last week at Superstition Mountain and was irritated by three or four dumb bogeys.
 
But she was stumped when asked what Woods had that she wanted, besides power off the tee and a $100 million annual income.
 
I think we all want to know what he has inside his head, she said. It would be hard to find. But Im happy for what I have.
 
What she could use are a few more majors.
 
Particularly this one.
 
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