Ochoa Back In Comfortable Territory

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2007 Safeway International pres by CocaColaSUPERSTITION MOUNTAIN, Ariz. -- Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club is no ordinary LPGA Tour stop for the worlds top-ranked female player.
 
This is where Lorena Ochoa learned how to cope with a horrific collapse, and also where she heard adoring chants of Viva, Lorena! from Hispanic groundskeepers after a rousing comeback victory.
 
This, the 26-year-old from Mexico said, is where she grew up as a golfer.
 
Its a place that has built me up, Ochoa said Wednesday as she prepared to defend her Safeway International title.
 
The tournament begins Thursday.
 
With Safeway ending its sponsorship of the event after this year, it could be the last LPGA Tour stop in the desert following a 26-year run. The LPGA Tour pulled out of Tucson several years ago.
 
Three years ago in this tournament, Ochoa blew a four-shot lead with three holes left and lost in a playoff to Annika Sorenstam.
 
But Ochoa returned last spring and chased down Norways Suzann Pettersen with four birdies in the final three holes, a victory that springboarded her to the No. 1 ranking last April.
 
She has held the spot the last 11 months and won 15 times since 2006, including an 11-shot victory last month in Singapore in the HSBC Womens Champions.
 
I learned to lose the hard way here but I was able to win last year, she said. Sometimes its tough, but you always learn a lot with the bad times. I am more comfortable now playing on Sunday, under pressure. I like that. Its just been a growing experience. It always helps.
 
With the Kraft Nabisco, the first major championship of the year, a week away, the field is loaded with stars taking another shot at Ochoa.
 
They include Sorenstam, who won the SBS Open last month and leads the 2008 money list, and Paula Creamer, the 21-year-old who won the Fields Open last month and is ranked No. 4 in the world.
 
Lorena is playing as good as Tiger Woods now, said Cristie Kerr, 10th on the money list. As good as we are, you marvel at how good and talented she is.
 
Ochoa knows she has a target on her back.
 
Its OK, she said. I was behind before, and its the way life and the sport is. I know there are so many good players behind me trying to get me, but I like where I am and Im going to make sure I stay in that position.
 
The two-time Rolex Player of the Year said staying on top motivates her.
 
I think its not a pressure that Im not able to sleep. Its a challenge. Ochoa said. Its something I dream about every day. It took me a long time to get here. It feels right. Im going to enjoy my moment as much as I can.
 
She feels at home in these surroundings. Ochoa played at the University of Arizona in Tucson and has a huge Hispanic following in the area.
 
I feel very comfortable and I have a lot of fans, she said. They keep coming every year. I always feel that support and love here. I want to say hello to the fans. As well as many Mexicans. Most of the drive from the border or live here in the desert and it really feels good to see the Mexican flag and them cheering for me.
 
She made more fans Wednesday. Before the pro-am, she tracked down the ground crew and thanked them for the pristine shape the course is in.
 
Walking on that first fairway, she said, you feel like youre floating.
 
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