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LPGA Looking for Big Finish to 2006

2006 ADT ChampionshipWEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Already with the LPGA player of the year award and six tournament victories, there's only one thing left for Lorena Ochoa to pursue this season.
A really, really big check.

The richest prize in women's golf -- $1 million -- awaits the winner of this week's season-ending ADT Championship, the finale of the inaugural LPGA Playoffs. A 32-woman field will be pared to eight by Sunday, when those survivors start anew and play 18 holes for the biggest payout in tour history.
Ochoa -- who turns 25 Wednesday -- is clearly relaxed these days, knowing that her primary goal for the year is already accomplished. Still, she's postponed the celebratory party until after the ADT is over, saying she wants nothing to distract from her pursuit of one more victory.
'I knew it would be a tough thing to do,' said Ochoa, who has won her last three starts to push her earnings to nearly $2.5 million for the season. 'I was just really happy that it happened last week.'
Ochoa is one of four players who still have a chance at the season money title, with Karrie Webb and two-time defending ADT champion Annika Sorenstam also assured of finishing the year atop that list by winning this week. Cristie Kerr could also take the money crown if she finishes first and Ochoa doesn't finish second.
While Ochoa says she likes the unique ADT format, she -- along with some other players -- doesn't like that the result here could easily skew the season's final money list. The entire $1 million first prize will count as official money, and Ochoa calls that 'a little unfair.'
'You can get a second place this week and your money title is gone,' said Ochoa, the first player since 1996 other than Sorenstam and Webb to win player of the year. 'That's the only thing I don't agree with. ... But if I need to win this week to win that title, too, I'm going to try hard to do it.'
Second place is worth $100,000, so it's conceivable that someone could stand over a putt on the 72nd hole with $900,000 at stake.
Under the tournament format, every golfer will play Thursday and Friday, when the first cut will trim the field to 16 players. A sudden-death playoff will follow Friday's second round in case of ties.
On Saturday, those 16 continue play, with that round followed by a second cut to get down to eight. From there, all the scores from the first three rounds are erased, and four twosomes will tee off Sunday morning.
The 2006 season was split into halves, with players earning points toward making the ADT Championship. Fifteen players from each half of the season and two wild cards got spots in the field.
'I'm not necessarily thrilled with how players qualified into the tournament,' Webb said. 'I don't think we have the best 32 players here, the best 32 players over the course of the year. But the format is something different and it's created a lot of interest.'
The odds suggest that whoever prevails at Trump International Golf Club will more than double her earnings for the season.
Only 10 women on tour have cracked the $1 million mark in 2006, a year where the average winner's check from the season's first 32 tournaments was $237,240.
'You could be a player that hasn't won all year and all of a sudden, you win a million and can be right up there,' Sorenstam said. 'So you know, it makes for a big change. It is obviously going to be very exciting for everyone. ... And I think everybody is going to ask the question, is that the way it should be?'
The winner's check is enormous, but the rest of the payouts are rather ordinary for tour golf. Third place is worth $20,500 and payouts dwindle a bit each rung from there, to $16,250 for eighth, $14,000 to those getting cut after Saturday and $8,000 for those gone after the first two rounds.
So, even though everyone will leave with at least a little something, this setup has a winner-take-all feel.
'It's going to be exciting,' Ochoa said.
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