On the golf course, competition was as fierce as ever. Annika Sorenstam's dominance of the LPGA Tour was challenged by a variety of veterans and rising stars, although Sorenstam kept her name near the top of most lists thanks in no small part to her U.S. Women's Open victory over Pat Hurst in an 18-hole playoff. Also, who could forget Sorenstam's final-round 62 for a come-from-behind win at the State Farm Classic, where she also clinched the State Farm LPGA Series $250,000 bonus pool.
Lorena Ochoa proved that she could be the heir to Sorenstam's throne with six wins this season to receive her first Rolex Player of the Year and Vare Trophy honors, earning more than $2 million this season for the 2006 ADT Official Money List title. The 25-year-old Mexican star recorded 20 top-10 finishes this season, which included six runner-up finishes. She recorded 46 of her 89 (.517) rounds in the 60s, carding scores of 66 and lower 20 times.
Karrie Webb mounted a comeback, although it's difficult to say she was ever in much of a slump, kick-started by an amazing hole-out for eagle at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first of five wins in 2006. The win inspired Se Ri Pak, who won the McDonald's LPGA Championship Presented by Coca-Coca in a playoff with Webb, thanks to a hybrid 4-iron from 201 yards that rolled to within inches. Veteran Sherri Steinhauer capped off the major championship season with a win at the Weetabix Women's British Open, her third at that event but her first since it was designated a major. Cristie Kerr continued to impress as the most successful American player in the past three seasons, adding three more victories and contending in nearly every event in which she played. Inspired by a Lucky Quarter, she overcame an eight-stroke deficit in the final round to win the CN Canadian Women's Open. Later in the year, she shot a 61, the Tour's season-low score, in the second round of the John Q. Hammons Hotel Classic presented by SemGroup to earn her third win of the season.
Ochoa began the season tying for second place at the SBS Open at Turtle Bay, the season opener. Signs of her breakout year came during the first round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, where she tied the lowest score in a major with an opening-round 62. Ochoa lost that week in a playoff to Webb, but came back to win her next event, the LPGA Takefuji Classic. From there, Ochoa tied for second place in her next three events before notching her second victory of the season at the rain-shortened Sybase Classic Presented by Lincoln Mercury.
Her next victory came at the Wendy's Championship for Children, as she carded all four rounds in the 60s, but it was the next three victories that were the most meaningful to Ochoa. She traveled home to Mexico in October and won her first LPGA Tour event on her home turf, when she won the Corona Morelia Championship. She followed that win up with a come-from-behind victory over Rolex Rankings No. 1 Sorenstam at the Samsung World Championship. Ochoa's final win of the 2006 season came in Mobile, Ala., two weeks ago where she recorded an amazing 10-shot victory to clinch her first Rolex Player of the Year honors.
The 2006 season was also a time for five Rolex First-Time winners to shine with their first career victories. Granada took home the largest check in LPGA history at the ADT Championship, while Brittany Lincicome notched her first career victory at the HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship where she took home a $500,000 paycheck. Rookie Seon-Hwa Lee also had a breakout season, as she won the ShopRite LPGA Classic to go along with seven top-10 finishes to earn Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year honors in a star-studded rookie class.
The season belonged to the Ochoa, but she wasn't the only story of the LPGA Tour's season, as it was a memorable 2006 with so many firsts to go along with some amazing comebacks and multiple breakout performances.
Breakout seasons - Although Lorena Ochoa took home most of the honors this year, it was also a year for multiple breakout seasons, as five players became Rolex First-Time Winners this year. Twenty-year-old Julieta Granada was the most recent winner last week as she took home the Tour's largest paycheck, $1 million, with her win at the ADT Championship. Granada joins four other Rolex First-Time Winners, which include: Joo Mi Kim at the SBS Open at Turtle Bay; Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Seon Hwa Lee at the ShopRite LPGA Classic; Brittany Lincicome at the HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship; and Sung Ah Yim at the Florida's Natural Charity Championship hosted by Nancy Lopez.
Tour sets millionaire record in 2006 - Eleven LPGA members earned more than $1 million in season earnings during 2006, setting an LPGA record for most millionaires in a season. The record was previously set in 2005 when six players accomplished the feat. The following players were involved in updating the record books in 2006, earning over $1 million this season: Lorena Ochoa ($2,592,872); Karrie Webb ($2,090,113); Annika Sorenstam ($1,971,741); Julieta Granada ($1,633,586); Cristie Kerr ($1,578,362); Mi Hyun Kim ($1,332,274); Juli Inkster ($1,326,442); Jeong Jang ($1,151,070); Hee-Won Han ($1,147,651); Pat Hurst ($1,128,662) and Paula Creamer ($1,076,163).
Creamer sets LPGA money record without a win - After winning two events on Tour during her rookie season to earn Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year honors, second-year player Paula Creamer did not win an event this year, but she still turned in another successful season. The 20-year-old finished the year with 14 top-10 finishes in 27 starts. She passed the $1 million mark in season earnings for the second-consecutive year and earned $1,076,163, which is the most money earned by a player without a win. Creamer breaks Natalie Gulbis' record, which she set last year when she earned $1,010,154 without a win. Creamer's best finish of the season came two weeks ago at The Mitchell Company Tournament of Champions presented by Kathy Ireland Worldwide, where she tied for second.
Hall of Fame inductions - Three members of the LPGA were inducted into Halls of Fame during 2006. Marilynn Smith, one of the 13 founders of the LPGA Tour in 1950, was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame on Oct. 30 as part of the 2006 class. Smith, who was also one of the founding members of the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional (T&CP) membership, was selected for induction through the Lifetime Achievement category.