Ochoa Blows Away the Field

By Associated PressMarch 30, 2008, 4:00 pm
2007 Safeway International pres by CocaColaSUPERSTITION MOUNTAIN, Ariz. -- Three big Mexican flags fluttered in the brisk wind above crowd at the 18th hole. Lorena Ochoa had made her country proud again.
 
Cheered on by a big, enthusiastic gallery, Ochoa left her pursuers in the desert dust on Sunday to successfully defend her title at the Safeway International with a dominating seven-stroke victory.
 
The 26-year-old sensation shot a 6-under 66 to finish at 22-under 266. She won for the second time in three tries in the young LPGA Tour season.
 
It was the lowest score, by four shots, in the five years the tournament has been held at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club.
 
Ochoa turned the tournament into a rout with birdies on the 13th, 14th and 15th holes, then punctuated her 19th career tour victory with a birdie tap-in on the 18th.
 
It was a great day, she said, especially the back nine.
 
The worlds No. 1-ranked female golfer and the LPGA Tour player of the year the past two seasons won eight times last year and has 16 victories in her last 53 starts.
 
Among those who followed her every move around the course in the large gathering was a man who waved held one of those Mexican flags.
 
It was very nice to see the support and feel the love. They care so much, she said. The know that I play not only for me but for all of them.
 
Ochoa thrives on being an example for her countrymen and women.
 
Im just trying to give back something, she said. Im trying to really fight for my dreams and always trying to keep my head up.
 
Now she sees youngsters playing golf in Mexico where before it was just her.
 
I see them and they say, `Hey, I want to be like you, and that feels very nice, she said. So I try to be a positive influence for them and just to kelp in any way I can, you know, for all of them.
 
Her would-be rivals faded under a bright blue sky with temperatures in the mid-80s and a brisk easterly wind at the foot of the Superstition Mountains, about 40 miles east of Phoenix.
 
South Koreas Jee Young Lee, who began the day one shot back, shot an even-par 72 to finish at 15 under. The 22-year-old Lee was paired with Ochoa, a match of two of the bigger hitters on tour.
 
Ochoa was asked who was longer on Sunday.
 
I think me, she said, laughing. We were close all day, but we were counting, and I think I got her by two.
 
Through her interpreter, Lee said she watched the way Ochoa handled the pressure.
 
Shes a great player, Lee said. She knows how to keep pace. Thats something I really need to learn from her. She always kept steady.
 
Minea Blomqvist of Finland (66) was third at 14 under, her best LPGA finish.
 
The LPGAs lone Arizona stop has the largest attendance of any tour event, but it faces an uncertain future because Safeway is dropping its sponsorship.
 
Ochoa, who earned $225,000, has said she would do whatever she could to keep the tournament alive. She called the open, desert layout her favorite course on the tour. She attended the University of Arizona and the event is close enough for her Mexican fans to come to watch her play. She had eight birdies, and two early bogeys, on the 6,662-yard Prospector course.
 
Angela Stanford, who broke the course record with a career-best 10-under 62 in the opening round, tied with Eun-Hee Ji of South Korea and Maria Hjorth of Sweden at 12 under.
 
The final round had the look of a shootout when it began, with Ochoa at 16 under, just one shot up on Lee and Stanford.
 
But her two pursuers faltered, especially Stanford, who shot a 2-over 74, including a triple bogey on the par-5, 552-yard 13th.
 
Stanford pulled even with Ochoa with a birdie on the first hole. But Ochoa took the lead for good with a birdie on the par-3 fourth.
 
Leta Lindley aced the 188-yard eighth hole with a 5-wood. She finished with a 68 to tie for 22nd at 7 under.
 
The tour moves next week to Rancho Mirage, Calif., for the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first of the LPGA Tours four majors.
 
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