Ochoa Falls Short Only on Course

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Lorena Ochoa had been on needles and pins at Pine Needles all week long. This was the U.S. Womens Open. She was the No. 1 ranked player in the world; the pre-tournament favorite and, at the relatively tender age of 25, the undisputed best player never to have won a major.
 
She had just signed a new equipment deal with PING. And she had been carrying the fervent hopes of her Mexican countrymen and women ever since she left the University of Arizona to join the LPGA full time in 2003.
 
She had been close in majors before, most notably the U.S. Womens Open at Cherry Hills two years ago when she fatted a driver on Sunday at the worst possible time and watched it plop into the water. She also had a chance to take command of the Kraft Nabisco on the back nine Sunday this year. Poor course management decisions left her tied for 10th there.
 
This time it was a failure to convert on either of the par 5s on the back nine Sunday. Length is her strength. But neither of her tee balls left her in a position to go for the green in two. Then Ochoa bogeyed the 17th after another poor drive. And that left the eventual winner, Cristie Kerr, with a two-shot lead and one hole to play.
 
Kerr made par, won the championship'her first major triumph'and Ochoa was left wondering when her time will come.
 
You can make the case that Morgan Pressel, who began the final round tied with Ochoa and one back of Kerr, will feel worse in the aftermath of this weather-plagued championship that somehow finished on time. Pressel played her last five holes in 5 over par and tied for 10th.
 
But everybody on the LPGA knows, week in and week out, that Ochoa is the best player in the womens game right now. Its just that the week outs keep coming at the majors. Last week Ochoa won in a playoff at the Wegmans LPGA. This week she was gracious again in defeat on a big stage.
 
And, for the record, nobody on the LPGA is more gracious in victory or defeat than Lorena Ochoa.
 
Kerr had charged into the 54-hole Sunday morning when the rain-interrupted third round was finally completed. Her 66 would hold up as the low round of the championship and it put her in the afternoons final grouping with Ochoa and Pressel.
 
Today, Kerr said after surgically removing the 400-ton gorilla off HER back, was my day. Obviously. The key was a putter that she had purchased. She finished the week third in average putts. She led the LPGA in that stat last year.
 
This Womens Open also was a coming out party of sorts for trilingual Angela Park. Born in Brazil of Korean descent and raised in Southern California, the 19-year-old Park birdied the 72d hole to share second place with Ochoa.
 
Prior to Sunday, none other than the oracle himself, NBC-TVs Johnny Miller, virtually anointed Park. I wouldnt be surprised if she was the best player in the world in a couple of years, Miller said on the air, adding he used to think Michelle Wie had the best swing in womens golf until he studied Parks action.
 
Comparing Parks to Ben Hogans swing, Miller cooed, Pure, pure, pure.
 
Annika Sorenstam, the defending champion, never recovered from a back nine 42 in Round Two and finished 6 over par and tied for 32nd. Sorenstam is hoping the neck and back injuries that sidelined her earlier this year will be fully healed by the time the women tee it up for their next major, the Weetabix Womens Open being played next month at the Old Course in St. Andrews.
 
Thats when Ochoa, who will almost certainly still be No. 1 in the womens rankings, will have to answer the next round of questions about when her breakthrough will come.
 
And the next time she snaps, or even shoots a cross look at a questioner, will be the first.
 
I dont need to be frustrated, she said when the tumult and the shouting had died down. We still have one more major this year. Im proud of myself. I tried really hard. I have nothing to be ashamed of. At the end things just turned bad on me. Thats the way it goes.
 
And thats the way the best people in golf react in the tough times. So many players, male and female, could learn a lesson from Lorena Ochoa that way.
 
And as Johnny Miller said of Ochoa, Her time will come.
 
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