Stars Ready to Shine at Open


U.S. WomenEDINA, Minn. -- The most dominant player on the tour acknowledged how mentally draining the U.S. Womens Open can be. The defending champ talked about the teeth of this years course. The soon-to-be-retired star spoke of the lifelong reverence shes had for the most prestigious event on a female professional golfers schedule.
Yes, the Womens Open is set up for plenty of drama this weekend in the woods of Interlachen Country Club.
Its one of those tournaments you just take so much out of you that hopefully you can take a week off after the U.S. Open, said Lorena Ochoa, the LPGA Tours leader and winner of six events'including one major'already this season.
Just too much thinking and worrying and trying to save pars, and giving yourself some birdie chances that you really want to make. Just a lot of up and down. You need to be prepared, Ochoa said.
Annika Sorenstam is not only preparing for four rounds of long fairways and tiny tilted greens, but for the end of her decorated career that includes first-place finishes at 10 major tournaments.
You only have so much to give, and Im coming to a point where its hard to get geared up other than for big events, Sorenstam said. I have a lot of patience coming into a tournament. If it goes well, its easy to stay on top and keep going. But when things are not going so well, its easy to lose it.
Cristie Kerr lost it last year, but not until after she tapped in the ball for par on the final hole to beat Ochoa by two strokes at Pine Needles in North Carolina. She dropped to her knees and cried, before leaping into the arms of her husband.
Her game is peaking toward the Open again this summer, and shell try to repeat her feat by maintaining that bring-it-on attitude toward this layout of 6,789 yards, the longest in tournament history.
I think that this is a golf course you definitely have to respect, Kerr said. You have to golf the ball around it. You have to execute that game plan as well as you can.
The dogleg 18th hole could be a major source of risk-reward suspense down the stretch. Its a par 5 that measures 530 yards but can be reached in two shots, and Ochoa was among the handful of players who easily cleared the pond with a 5-wood during practice rounds.
Some of the length of this course, which was designed by Donald Ross and touched up by Robert Trent Jones, is negated by the assigned par of 73' including five 5s. There are also the elevated greens with undulations so severe that the USGA conservatively placed some of the holes.
Sometimes caddies, they come and talk to you, We really need to be below the hole. Sometimes they overreact, Ochoa said. Its OK if you are 2 or 3 feet by; you can make a nice birdie putt. Not on these greens. You really need to pay attention.
There will be plenty of people paying attention to Sorenstam, especially in a state like Minnesota with so many Scandinavian descendants. One house next to the course has hoisted a big banner outside reading Skol Annika colored in Swedens blue and yellow.
I try to just stay cold about my emotions and focus on what I have to do, Sorenstam said. But I do know in the back of my mind that when Sunday comes, I will not be playing here any more.
Ochoa figures to participate in many more of these, but shes still looking for her first Open title. The 26-year-old from Mexico has had a rough couple of weeks, though.
She withdrew from the Ginn Tribute when her uncle died, and later learned after the McDonalds LPGA Championship that her maternal grandfather passed away. He had been ill for some time, but Ochoa figured she would only be gone a week and have plenty of time to see him again.
I never really said goodbye so that was tough, Ochoa said this week. He was my joy and motivation.
She is longer than ever off the tee, and while her putting has cost her the past couple of events, she has a Tiger-like drive to constantly improve all facets of her game.
The hardest part now will be blocking out all the potential distractions around her.
The last few weeks have been rough for me, she said. I play for a week, and I didnt play. Its been on and off, and I feel that its important for me to get a rhythm, get my concentration on the golf course, and Ill be ready to play.
Shell have to be.
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