Ochoa Coronation Inches Closer


RANCHO MIRAGE, Ca. -- There is a fountain in Guadalajara, Mexico where the locals celebrate on special occasions. It is to be found in a part of town called La Minerva. And they are poised there this weekend to become festive.
This is because Guadalajaras favorite daughter, Lorena Ochoa, is poised to become the No. 1 ranked woman golfer in the world.
When the soccer team wins they celebrate at La Minerva, Ochoa explained. They drink and run and listen to music, mariachi bands, and they have promised me they will do that. Well see.
We will see, indeed.
When Ochoa got off the golf course Friday at Mission Hills Country Club, she found herself tied for the lead with Paula Creamer in the Kraft Nabisco Championship at 4 under par.
If Ochoa is still leading, by herself, at the end of play Sunday, she will pass Annika Sorenstam at the top of the rankings and she will have won her first major championship.
Nothing in golf is predestined. But everybody here is ready for the coronation. The crowds around the golf course bathe Ochoa in warm applause wherever she goes. When her name comes up in conversation now all you have to do is say Lorena and people know about whom you are talking.
Every time Ochoa appears in the press room, she looks out at reporters and, before taking their questions, greets them with a hello. It is at once so winning, so natural and so out of the ordinary in that setting that even the most grizzled pressmen leave shaking their heads at her politesse.
Ochoa, who unseated Sorenstam as the LPGAs Player of the Year in 2006, even wears her confidence well. Ive been waiting five years, she said about her ascendancy. To wait three or four more weeks is no problem.
Her round Friday began on the 10th hole and after a birdie on No. 11 she dropped back to one under following a bogey on 13 and a double bogey on 15.
Her driver was giving her fits. And it was producing army golf. One left, one right, she said.
But patience, prudence and skill helped her birdie the 17th and 18th. The latter occurred when she cleared the water on the signature par 5 hole with a 5-wood second and got up and down for a four.
Im in a good position, Lorena said. Actually its even better than the scoreboard indicates. Mission Hills is playing more than 100 yards longer this year than it did in 2006. And this benefits the longer hitters, of which Ochoa is one.
One or 2 under a day on Saturday and Sunday, Ochoa said, should be pretty good. The idea of anybody getting to double figures under par is, she said, is unlikely.
Se Ri Pak, who will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame later this year, is hanging around the first page of the leaderboard. And Paula Creamer, one of the few young Americans playing well at the moment, made a nice move on the eve of the weekend with a Friday 67 that left her tied with Ochoa.
For her part, Sorenstam wasnt able to rally from a disappointing 75 on Thursday. After 36 holes she is 11 shots off the lead.
Ochoas grasp of English has grown in leaps and bounds since she showed up on the campus of the University of Arizona as a freshman in 2000. For a while the only adjective she was comfortable with in English was super. Then she got on a happy kick.
I need to get better, she said Friday.
But all that wont really matter if she wins Sunday. She will be on top of her world. The tequila will be flowing freely at La Minerva. And Ochoa will be super happy.
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