Rather than waiting for Michelle Wie's eagerly anticipated full-time move to the LPGA Tour, the 23-year-old Mexican star took matters into her own hands Friday.
Ochoa, the LPGA's rookie of the year two seasons ago, shot a 5-under 67 to open a two-shot lead in the Safeway International, with Sorenstam three strokes behind and the resurgent Wie also in contention.
``It's my dream to play with her, beside her, and beat her,'' Ochoa said about competing with Sorenstam, the circuit's player of the year from 2001-04. ``So we'll see. We'll wait for that moment.''
Ochoa won twice last year, but couldn't recall leading a professional tournament after two rounds.
``At least, (it's) the first time that Annika is in the field when I'm leading, so I'm just excited I have a chance,'' she said.
Ochoa was on pace for an even bigger lead until she bogeyed the 14th hole. She birdied the 18th to finish at 12-under 132 halfway through the tour's first 72-hole event of the year.
Soo-Yun Kang was second after a 66, and Sorenstam, the defending champion, was 9 under after a 69.
Sorenstam, who had the second- and third-round leads on the way to her victory last year, watched the leaderboards all day to keep track of Ochoa.
``I saw her at 9 (under), and then all of a sudden I saw her at 12,'' the Swedish champion said. ``I don't know what happened in between, but she's obviously playing some good golf.''
Siew-Ai Lim, who shared the first-round lead with Ochoa, was 7 under after a 72, with Grace Park (67) and Karen Stupples (71) 6 under.
Candie Kung (70) and Juli Inkster (73) were next at 5-under 139, and Wie followed her opening 73 with a 67 to join Laura Davies (69), Paula Creamer (71), Liselotte Neumann (70) and Laura Diaz (67) at 4 under.
The 15-year-old Wie rallied in the second round to run her string of consecutive cuts made to 11. The long-hitting teen, who last missed a cut in August 2003, appeared to be in jeopardy of another early exit when she bogeyed the first hole.
But she recovered with an eagle and five birdies to get back in the hunt for her first LPGA title. Wie had her best finish against professional competition three weeks ago with a tie for second in her native Hawaii.
``I was shooting to shot, like, a lot under par, because I think the conditions are going to be tough the next few days, hearing the weather forecast,'' Wie said.
Sorenstam, the circuit's player of the year from 2001-04, has a three-tournament winning streak, including her season debut in Mexico City, and has won five of the last seven she's entered.
But she might have her work cut out against Ochoa, another former University of Arizona player capable of scoring bursts that rival Sorenstam's.
Ochoa finished third on the money list last year with $1.45 million, and set tour season records for birdies (442), rounds under par (75) and rounds in the 60s (51).
After a tie for 14th in Hawaii, Ochoa was fifth in Mexico City, and came in determined to play well in Arizona, where she also feels at home.
She looked the part on the Prospector Course on the flank of the scenic Superstition Mountains, birdieing the second hole and making birdie putts of between 15 and 17 feet on Nos. 7, 8 and 10.
Ochoa went to 12 under on the 11th hole, making her fourth birdie in five holes after dropping an 8-iron shot within 8 feet of the cup.
At that point, Ochoa was two shots up on Kang, the clubhouse leader, and five ahead of Sorenstam.
But the chase tightened when Ochoa knocked a wedge over the green at the 310-yard 14th hole and failed to get up and down.
Sorenstam birdied two of the last three holes. Ochoa also got back a stroke at No. 18, reaching the green in two with a 5-wood that set up a two-putt birdie from 20 feet.
Kang's short game was exceptional -- the longest of her seven birdie putts was a 6-footer on No. 13.
Kang, who won the World Amateur Championship in 1996 and then turned professional, apprenticed on the Futures and Korea LPGA tours until she qualified for the LPGA Tour in 2001.
She played in the final group with Sorenstam at a Korean event years ago and won.
``So it doesn't affect me and doesn't put any pressure on me,'' Kang said.
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