Ochoa Charges up the Leaderboard

By Associated PressJune 6, 2008, 4:00 pm
McDonalds LPGAHAVRE DE GRACE, Md. -- Lorena Ochoa trudged up a grassy mound to the right of the fifth green with a wedge in her hand, searching for a rare errant shot. She found the ball in the bunker, much to her relief, blasted over a steep lip and saved par.
 
That was all the trauma she could stand in one day at Bulle Rock.
 
It was the only fairway and the only green she missed. Ochoa was practically perfect Friday in the McDonalds LPGA Championship, making enough of her 17 birdie chances for a 7-under 65 and a one-shot lead over Lindsey Wright. There was no stress, no par putt longer than 3 feet, and not much to ruin a day when golf felt as simple as walking.
 
My best round in the season, Ochoa said.
 
It put the 26-year-old from Mexico in her favorite spot'atop the leaderboard at a major championship.
 
Ochoa had at least a share of the 36-hole lead in the Womens British Open at St. Andrews and Kraft Nabisco Championship, winning both those majors by a combined nine shots.
 
I think its just good to be in the lead because my name means something, you know? she said. In a way, thats what Im trying to do'to put pressure on other players and to let them know that you want to win.
 
Ochoas 65 matched her best score of the season and topped by three shots her best score in this major. She was at 10-under 134, the lowest 36-hole score at Bulle Rock since the LPGA Championship moved here in 2005.
 
Lorie Kane made three straight birdies to catch Ochoa in the afternoon, but the Canadian had to settle for a 70 and was two behind.
 
Three-time LPGA champion Annika Sorenstam tried to make a move with a 68, but she was still four shots behind. But she sounded as though she anticipated a duel with the No. 1 player on Sunday.
 
I think Im in good shape, Sorenstam said. I played well here in the past. Its a major, and 36 holes is nothing. The way Im hitting it, Im just waiting for the putts to drop. It could be a lot of fun.
 
Wright, who grew up in Australia and played college golf at Pepperdine, has never finished better than fourth on the LPGA Tour. She had the outright lead with a birdie on the 18th, but stumbled twice on her back nine until finishing with a birdie.
 
Kind of nice to come into the weekend in this position, especially when Lorena is leading the tournament, Wright said. Shes obviously the person to beat. When you see her up there, you know shes not going to make too many mistakes. It keeps me focused because I know I cant make too many mistakes. I have to make birdies.
 
Ochoa took the lead with one final birdie, a 20-footer on the 18th hole and curled into the side of the cup. Ochoa swung her leg and pumped her fist, happy to see the last putt fall on a day when she missed a half-dozen putts shorter than that.
 
Her longest putt for birdie was about 25 feet on the 13th hole. She missed three birdie putts inside 8 feet. And even as the temperatures began to climb, Ochoa barely broke a sweat.
 
It was very easy. I did enjoy it a lot, Ochoa said. Im going to try to do two more rounds like that.
 
Her work done, Ochoa headed to the movies with her brother to watch Sex in the City. But she departed Bulle Rock with her name atop the leaderboard, and it stayed there throughout the afternoon.
 
Morgan Pressel made seven birdies, but her round of 70 was slowed by five bogeys. It was the second straight major she played with Ochoa the first two rounds, and one good aspect is that she didnt need to see a leaderboard to figure out where she stood. In this case, Pressel was eight shots behind.
 
Pressels round was impressive on two counts'she often can rely on four of her fairway metals or hybrids in her bag while Ochoa had an iron, and the LPGAs youngest major champion had to use a different caddie. Jon Yarbrough learned Friday morning that his father had died after a long illness, telling Pressel in the parking lot and finding her a caddie from Bulle Rock named Matt Hall.
 
Yarbrough also had to leave before the Womens British Open last summer when his father-in-law died.
 
Pressel wound up keeping her yardage book.
 
I havent done so much math in a long time, she said.
 
As for the fairway metals?
 
Ochoa was walking toward the 10th green when she casually mentioned to Pressel that she had the same yardage'121'for the third time that round. Pressel couldnt help but roll her eyes.
 
Shes like, Shut up. Ive had five times 195 yards, Ochoa said, laughing. I was like, Im sorry, Im sorry, Ill shut up. Im not saying anything. And then I look at her and I said, Well, you put it closer than me. Because its true. The way she played today was very impressive.
 
So was the way Ochoa played, and it nudged her closer to another major.
 
Divots
 
The LPGA Tour said it will assume ownership of the LPGA Championship in 2010, and it will no longer have a title sponsor. The purse will be $3 million, and commissioner Carolyn Bivens said her preference would be to keep the tournament in the Northeast. Defending champion Suzann Pettersen shot a 68 and was five shots out of the lead. Ochoa on going to the movies: I like to have a hot dog and a Diet Coke and chocolate, she said. Sometimes I dont understand the English so I miss a lot of jokes. But its OK.
 
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    Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

    Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

    While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.


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    “It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

    Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

    “I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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    Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

    McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

    “I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”


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    The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

    “There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

    He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

    “I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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    Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

    Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

    Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.


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    It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

    “If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

    Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

    “It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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    Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

    Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

    Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

    “It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”


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    Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

    “I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

    Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

    “If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”