Ochoa Returns to Defend Lone 2005 Victory


2006 Wegmans OpenPITTSFORD, N.Y. -- This week, the Wegmans LPGA returns to Locust Hill Country Club to celebrate its 30th anniversary, and the timing is right for a showdown of champions. Last year, Lorena Ochoa staged one of the biggest comebacks of the season to win the tournament by four strokes, and as she prepares to defend her title at the $1.8 million Wegmans LPGA this week, she is riding a wave of momentum symbolizing one of the biggest career-breakouts of 2006.
Ochoa created a nine-stroke swing during the 2005 tournament with six birdies on her final seven holes to defeat eventual Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Paula Creamer. It was Ochoa's only victory in a season where she recorded four runner-up finishes and became the fastest player in LPGA Tour history to reach $3 million in career earnings.
This year, she has posted five runner-up finishes, collected two more trophies and a $270,000 winner's check this week would bring her to within $100,000 of $5 million in career earnings. Ochoa will start the Wegmans LPGA leading the ADT Official Money List with $1,155,454 in season earnings and maintaining an impressive Tour-leading 69.38 scoring average. She also leads the LPGA Tour in eagles, the race for the Rolex Player of the Year, ADT Points and the State Farm LPGA Series Bonus Pool.
But Ochoa is certainly not the only player making waves on Tour. All but two of the season's 13 champions are in the 144-player field, including LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame member Karrie Webb, who joins Ochoa as the only other player with more than one win this season. Webb has played 10 events to Ochoa's 12, but only trails her by $35,000 on the ADT Official Money List, and by four points in the Rolex Player of the Year race.
The advantage for Webb lies in career performances at the Wegmans LPGA. In four appearances, she won in both 1999 and 2002 and has never finished lower than a tie for 15 th (2003). A third victory at the event would tie Webb with fellow LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Famer Nancy Lopez with three wins at the Wegmans LPGA. Only Patty Sheehan, another LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame member, has won more with four tournament victories.
Se Ri Pak had a week off to soak in the feeling of another major championship after defeating Webb in a sudden-death playoff at the McDonald's LPGA Championship Presented by Coca-Cola. With her win, the 23-time LPGA champion jumped from 110 th to 19 th in the Rolex Women's World Golf Rankings. This will be Pak's ninth appearance at the Wegmans LPGA and her continued rise in the rankings will hinge upon her ability to improve on last year's tie for 35 th.
Improving on last year's finish for Creamer would mean a win for the 19 year old. Creamer held a five-stroke lead over Ochoa going into the final 18 holes, but was unable to hold off Ochoa's six-birdies-in-seven-holes surge. By this time last year, Creamer had notched one victory and three additional top-10s. Creamer has six top-10 finishes this season and is still looking for her first win of 2006.
If any player could be considered a quiet threat, watch out for Cristie Kerr. The Miami-native is among the 13 season champions in the field and owns seven additional top-10 finishes. She has made her presence known on Tour, appearing in the top-five in almost every major statistical category, including a 69.88 scoring average'third behind Ochoa and Webb. In 12 starts, she has finished outside the top-13 just twice.
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