Ochoa Opens New Season in Hawaii

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2006 SBS OpenKAHUKU, Hawaii -- Lorena Ochoa is finally back where she feels most at peace -- on the golf course as one of the gals.
 
'Right now, I'm just like any other player. We start from the bottom,' she said, as she prepared for the season-opening SBS Open, which starts Thursday.
 
Ochoa, however, is hardly just another player. She won six tournaments last season en route to becoming the first player not named Annika Sorenstam to win the LPGA player of the year since 2001.
 
Lorena Ochoa
Lorena Ochoa hopes to build on her big 2006 season. (Wire Images)
Life hasn't quite been the same since then.
 
The 25-year-old is a national hero in her native Mexico where she's been busy meeting the president, conducting countless interviews and signing deals with new sponsors. She recently opened two golf academies with plans for a third.
 
'There's just so many things to do outside the golf course,' she said. 'It was tough. But it's something that you have to learn to do.'
 
Ochoa earned $2,592,872 last year, more than double her 2005 earnings, to win the money title and become just the second player in history to surpass the $2 million mark in a season.
 
She had six second-place finishes, including a runner-up at the SBS, and 20 top-10 finishes while leading the tour in birdies, eagles, rounds in the 60s and greens in regulation.
 
'It will be a big challenge to do what I did last year, but at the same time I still have room to improve and there are thing I could do better,' she said.
 
Ochoa said she's been spending hours working on her short game.
 
'I'm not going to put a lot of pressure on me. I'm going to think the same way: Just try to be consistent every week and hopefully the results at the end of the year are the way I want,' she said.
 
All that remains for Ochoa is a major victory. And she's getting close. Ochoa finished in the top 20 in all four majors last year.
 
'I think I have better chances this year because experience counts a lot and hopefully this is the year for me. We'll see,' she said.
 
Ochoa said she loves sharing her success with Mexico and only feels 'positive pressure' from a nation of supporters.
 
'I represent them with my heart,' she said.
 
After her breakthrough season, she spent time with her family and friends in Guadalajara before getting back to golf.
 
'I spent 20 days on the beach doing nothing,' she said. 'Nothing related to golf. No hitting balls. No interviews. Nothing with my sponsors. It was very relaxing. I think it was good to charge me and get energy.'
 
Nine of the 10 money leaders are entered in the SBS. The only player missing is Sorenstam, who is scheduled to make her debut in Mexico next month.
 
Last year, Joo Mi Kim got her first LPGA Tour win with a birdie on the second playoff hole to beat Ochoa and fellow South Korean Soo Young Moon.
 
Kimberly Kim, who last year became the youngest champion of the U.S. Women's Amateur at age 14, is playing on a sponsor's exemption this week and the Fields Open next week at Ko Olina.
 
The 15-year-old grew up in Hilo, Hawaii, and now lives outside of Phoenix.
 
Fellow island teen, Michelle Wie, has a left wrist injury that will keep her away from golf for at least a month. Wie finished tied for second in the inaugural SBS in 2005 and skipped last year's event.
 
While the SBS begins play for most of the field, Karrie Webb already seems to be in midseason form.
 
The seven-time major winner is coming off a two-week Australian sweep. She won her third Women's Australian Open title two weeks ago at Royal Sydney and added her sixth Australian Ladies Masters victory Sunday at Royal Pines.
 
'You hope the game is still there after being away from tournament golf after a couple months but to win twice was a little unexpected, but I'll take it,' she said.
 
There wasn't too much time for celebration. She left her hotel at 3 a.m. to catch her 5 a.m. flight to Hawaii.
 
The 32-year-old Australian is coming off one of her best seasons with five titles including the Kraft Nabisco Championship, where she beat Ochoa in a playoff. Webb went over $2 million in earnings for the first time to finish second on the money list to Ochoa.
 
'It was probably the most rewarding year of my career,' Webb said. 'I think it's the one I appreciated the most.'
 
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