DANVILLE, Calif. – Sophie Gustafson questioned whether she would ever win another LPGA title.
“Yeah, absolutely,” she said, grinning.
Gustafson is finally an LPGA winner again, six years after her last championship, cruising to a four-stroke victory over top-ranked Lorena Ochoa in the CVS/pharmacy LPGA Challenge on Sunday.
The 35-year-old Swede shot a 4-under 68 at Blackhawk Country Club and finished at 20-under 268 for her first title since the 2003 Samsung World Championship. She takes home the $165,000 winning purse for her fifth career tour victory.
She beamed while walking across the bridge to the 18th green, even high-fiving a tournament official. Once it was official, she shared a long embrace with caddie Tamara Hyett. It was an especially challenging tournament given the unseasonably hot temperatures for September in the Bay Area – it reached the mid-90s Sunday.
The 5-foot-10 Gustafson, who overcame her first two bogeys on the front nine all week, never dazzled but she didn’t have to on a day Ochoa struggled with her short game among other shots. Gustafson eagled No. 5 and then gained a stroke on Ochoa with her birdie on No. 13. Gustafson finished the final round with four birdies.
She considers this among her best tournaments yet in terms of consistency over all four rounds despite never feeling comfortable with the putter.
“I had my moments,” she said of her short game. “I’m just happy it’s over.”
Ochoa could sense it was Gustafson’s day from the start Sunday. Last week at the Samsung, Ochoa edged Gustafson by three strokes to tie for fourth.
“I have felt good but I haven’t gotten it done,” Gustafson said of her past events. “I felt good about my game, but the thing about my game is it can come and go. I don’t know what to expect.”
Ochoa shot an even-par 72 on Sunday to finish at 16 under. She’s winless in 11 starts since taking the Corona Championship in her native Mexico in late April. Ochoa has only two victories in 16 events this year after winning 21 times in the previous three years.
She missed chances all round, including when she could have pulled closer on the back nine.
“I thought maybe the back nine was mine,” Ochoa said. “I gave myself birdie chances on 10, 12, 13 and 14 and none of them dropped. I would have had some momentum and put some pressure on Sophie.”
Ochoa lost here in a playoff to Suzann Pettersen in 2007 and was fourth last year, but said Sunday she’s “happy” with those results and believes her game is beginning to come around.
“For sure I didn’t play my best today,” she said. “I didn’t get a good start. Everything looked like it was her day. I’m trying to be happy with second place. I have to be patient with myself.”
Amy Yang (66) and Sun Young Yoo (68) tied for third at 14 under.
Gustafson missed a chance to pick up a stroke on No. 8, a tricky 360-yard par 4. Ochoa’s tee shot landed far to the right near the gallery, across the cart path about 6 inches from an iron fence bordering a house. Upon seeing her lie, Ochoa slapped her leg in frustration.
Opting against a drop and after a discussion with her caddie, Ochoa’s second shot required a short back swing because of the fence. Her choked-up 5-iron shot ricocheted off a plastic irrigation cover 15 feet away and landed in the deep rough parallel to her previous shot. She slammed the club head into the ground.
“Sometimes you also have to get a few good breaks and it just didn’t happen for me,” Ochoa said. “That’s the way it is.”
Gustafson said she was so focused on her own play she didn’t pay much attention to what Ochoa was doing.
“I’m so wrapped up in my own game if I start paying attention to what other people are doing I start going straight down hill,” she said.
Local favorite Paula Creamer tied for 13th at 10-under 278.
“I just couldn’t putt,” Creamer said. “I hit a lot of greens. I missed three greens, 17-18 and No. 4. Other than that I had birdie chances on every single hole and didn’t make anything. That was the difference. I wasn’t feeling my best. I think the heat got to me. I hit the ball well but I couldn’t get anything going.”