Ochoa Arrival Coincides with Annika Departure


McDonalds LPGAHAVRE DE GRACE, Md. -- The picture has a prominent spot in the home of Lorena Ochoa, kept in the TV room alongside some of the trophies she has collected during a rapid rise to the No. 1 spot in womens golf.
As a sophomore at Arizona, Ochoa was low amateur at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. She was invited to the trophy presentation on the 18th green along with the winner'Annika Sorenstam'and asked the Swede to pose with the entire Ochoa clan.
Very nervous, Ochoa said, describing her first meeting with the player she wanted to follow. With Annika, the way she is sometimes shy in a way, shes always been very nice to me, and she always jokes with my dad. They are very friendly to each other, and from there, we just started a relationship. And its been a very special one.
Their relationship now is more about coming and going.
Ochoa has emerged as the most dynamic player on the LPGA Tour, a shift that started when she won a back-nine duel against Sorenstam at the 2006 Samsung World Championship.
The 26-year-old from Mexico is the favorite this week at the McDonalds LPGA Championship, where she will try to become only the fourth woman to win three straight majors. She already has six victories this year, twice as many as Sorenstam.
I feel like my game is solid and where I want it to be, she said.
Sorenstam is on her way out.
She announced three weeks ago at the Sybase Classic'a tournament Ochoa won ' that this would be her final year on the LPGA Tour. Sorenstam has 72 career victories, including 10 majors, and she would like nothing more than to leave on top.
The 37-year-old does not consider this a sentimental farewell tour.
It was never meant to be that way, Sorenstam said. Im focusing on playing golf. I want to finish well, and I have a chance to win the money list, player of the year. So thats kind of what my focus is, and nothing else.
Winning those awards one last time'she already has won player of the year a record eight times'means toppling Ochoa, which is a tall order these days. Ochoa has finished out of the top 10 only once this year in nine starts, and she is determined to do what Sorenstam never could'win all four majors in the same year.
I think its something very special, she said of the Grand Slam.
Ochoa loves the competition. Aside from winning majors at the Womens British Open and the Kraft Nabisco, one of her greatest thrills was playing in the final group with Sorenstam at Big Horn in late 2006, turning a three-shot deficit into a two-shot victory.
Equally strong are memories of Sorenstam throughout her journey to the top.
Sorenstam first found stardom at Arizona a decade earlier, winning the NCAA title as a freshman and the Pac-10 title the next year before leaving. Ochoa learned all about her when she arrived in Tucson, barely able to speak English but understanding a college record that translates into any language.
She studied her on the range and inside the ropes. She asked questions.
I wanted to be like her, Ochoa said. I wanted to follow her steps. When I turned professional, I gave her a phone call to see the things I needed to do, give me advice, and she was very helpful.
Ochoa called Sorenstams caddie when she was looking for a new looper.
Sentiments aside, both are here to win.
Its competition. It separates the things that you do, Ochoa said. But I can only say thank you to all of the things she gave me. I learned a lot from her.
Sorenstam holds the LPGA record by winning the same major three straight years, the last of those LPGA Championship titles coming in 2005 when it moved to Bulle Rock for the first time.
It is a big course that favors both of them, especially this year. A wet spring made the grass lush, and rain the last two days have made the 6,641-yard course even longer. The closing hole, with water hugging the left side of the green, now measures 422 yards.
Thats not likely to help Morgan Pressel, who is paired with Ochoa the first two rounds for the second straight time in a major, of Paula Creamer, who is still trying to win her first major.
The golf course is definitely soft, Creamer said. The rough is very thick. Its very punishing if you miss the fairway. They moved some tees back, which makes it a little bit more difficult. Hopefully, we dont get too much rain in the next couple of days so it can dry out.
Sorenstam has not won a major since the 2006 U.S. Womens Open at Newport, but when someone suggested it would be sweet to leave the LPGA Tour with one or two more, she quickly replied, Or three? Yeah, that would be great.
She has no regrets about leaving golf, with hopes of starting a family and building a business. And it makes it easier when Ochoa, who is ruthless on the course and respectful off it, is leading the way.
I do feel a special bond with her, Sorenstam said. I respect her tremendously, and its been a lot of fun to see her grow. She has developed a lot as a person and as a player, and shes a great asset to the tour. Thats another reason why I feel like my timing of stepping away is good. The tour is in great hands.
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