Ochoa Focused Ready to Capture a Major

By Associated PressJune 6, 2007, 4:00 pm
McDonalds LPGAHARVE DE GRACE, Md. -- Lorena Ochoa has spent her life scaling great heights, as a 12-year-old climbing Pico de Orizaba in her native Mexico, and in her five years on the LPGA Tour toppling Annika Sorenstam as the No. 1 player.
The one mountain that awaits is one she figured to have reached already.
Michelle Wie
Michelle Wie has her wrist examined during Wednesday's practice round. (Getty Images)
Ochoa has done everything but win a major championship, and her next chance starts Thursday at the LPGA Championship.
'Am I tired of the question? No, no,' she said with a laugh. 'My dad is also asking me that. No, it's just a matter of time. I've been good not to really stress too much and put a lot of pressure on me from what the press says, or what the people say outside, the fans or the players. I think I have a good chance this week. I'm going to try really hard. I'm ready. And hopefully, this is it.'
No one ever said winning a major would be easy.
Considering all she has done the last few years, no one guessed it would take Ochoa this long.
'I've played with Lorena the first two rounds of the last two tournaments, and she finished first and second,' Kraft Nabisco champion Morgan Pressel said. 'That's not too shabby. It's impressive to watch her play and watch her hit the ball so well. She grinds it out, and I'm sure she wants to win -- win this week, win a major.'
It hasn't been for lack of an opportunity.
Ochoa put together a dazzling charge at Cherry Hills two years ago in the U.S. Women's Open until she popped up a 3-wood and put it into the water on the final hole, leading to a quadruple bogey.
Then came the Kraft Nabisco Championship a year later, when she blew a three-shot lead over Michelle Wie in the final round, made an eagle on the 18th hole to get into a playoff and lost to Karrie Webb. Ochoa wasted another good chance this spring at the Nabisco until a quadruple-bogey 7 on the 17th hole of the third round took her out of the mix.
The memories won't go away, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
She is determined to learn from her mistakes, and for the most part, she has done that.
After blowing a big lead to Sorenstam in Phoenix, she rallied to beat her in a pivotal showdown at the Samsung World Championship that enabled Ochoa to sweep all the LPGA awards last season.
But while she already has won twice on the LPGA Tour this year, Ochoa arrived at Bulle Rock with more skepticism about her ability to close out tournaments.
A week ago at the Ginn Tribute, she squandered a three-shot lead against unheralded Nicole Castrale, then lost in a playoff when Ochoa hooked her tee shot into a hazard. She fell apart down the stretch at the wind-blown Ginn Open, allowing Brittany Lincicome to win. And at the Corona Championship in Mexico, she couldn't catch untested Silvia Cavalleri.
That's hardly what anyone expects from the No. 1 player in the world.
Ochoa, however, doesn't seem rattled.
'I just see the big picture, and give myself so many chances to win tournaments and to be close and to be at the top,' Ochoa said. 'Those are really good things. It hurts that I didn't win, but those are the things I need to work on.'
Ochoa was among a dozen players who had a chance at Bulle Rock last year, which resembled a demolition derby until Se Ri Pak emerged the winner with one of the most stunning shots of the year. Pak got into a playoff with Webb, popped up her tee shot on the 18th hole, then hit a hybrid 4-iron that stopped 2 inches from the cup for a tap-in victory that gave her a fifth major championship.
'It's something I will never forget about,' Pak said.
More history awaits this week no matter what she shoots. By finishing her first round Thursday, Pak will have played 10 tournaments to complete her 10th year on the LPGA Tour, the final requirement for the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Her induction will be in November.
'This is the first time I feel nervous about something I'm going through,' Pak said.
The other question is whether Wie will even finish her first round. The 17-year-old from Honolulu is coping with an injured wrist and mounting criticism for her conduct, after pulling out with two holes left in her first round at the Ginn Tribute last week when she already was 14 over par. Had she finished at 16-over 88, by rule she would have been banned from the LPGA Tour the rest of the year.
Wie was at Bulle Rock early Wednesday morning, and working on her putting late in the afternoon.
Sorenstam held nothing back in her criticism of Wie withdrawing from the tournament where Sorenstam was the host. She was mainly perturbed that the teenager was seen at Bulle Rock two days later hitting balls, and said that showed lack of respect and class.
Most other LPGA Tour supported Sorenstam's criticism. And they feared a circus atmosphere at the second major of the year.
Ochoa wasn't interested in that conversation.
'I really don't have any opinion,' she said. 'I hope she's doing OK and I hope her wrist is fine, and that if she plays this week, she completes the round and really shows how she's playing.'
Ochoa wants to finish more than just a round of golf. She wants to finish off a major, the one item missing from her credentials. Ochoa set big goals when she turned pro, such as winning a major and rising to No. 1 in the world.
She always figured the major would come first.
'You have in your head winning tournaments, and especially winning majors,' she said. 'But for sure, you never know how it's going to happen, and when it's going to happen.'
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    Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

    By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

    Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

    Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

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    “I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

    Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

    “I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

    But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

    “I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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    Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

    Hoylake in 2006.

    That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

    So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

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    “I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

    With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

    “The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”

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    How will players game-plan for Carnoustie?

    By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:31 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Thomas took a familiar slash with his driver on the 18th tee on Monday at Carnoustie and watched anxiously as his golf ball bounced and bounded down the fairway.

    Unlike the two previous editions of The Open, at what is widely considered the rota’s most demanding test, a particularly warm and dry summer has left Carnoustie a parched shade of yellow and players like Thomas searching for answers.

    Under the best circumstances, Carnoustie is every bit the unforgiving participant. But this week promises to be something altogether different, with players already dumbfounded by how far the ball is chasing down fairways and over greens.

    Brown is beautiful here at Royal Dark & Dusty.

    But then it’s also proving to be something of a unique test.

    Where most practice rounds at The Open are spent trying to figure out what lines are best off tees, this is more a study of lesser evils.

    Tee shots, like at the par-4 17th hole, ask multiple questions with few answers. On his first attempt, Thomas hit 2-iron off the tee at No. 17. It cleared the Barry Burn and bounded down the middle of the fairway. Perfect, right? Not this year at Carnoustie, as Thomas’ tee shot kept rolling until it reached the same burn, which twists and turns through both the 17th and 18th fairways, at a farther intersection.

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    “A hole like 17 in this wind, the trick is getting a club that will carry [the burn],” said Thomas, who played 18 holes on Monday with Tiger Woods. “If that hole gets downwind you can have a hard time carrying the burn and keeping it short of the other burn. It’s pretty bizarre.”

    The sixth hole can offer a similar dilemma, with players needing to carry their tee shots 275 yards to avoid a pair of pot bunkers down the right side of the fairway. Yet just 26 yards past those pitfalls looms a second set of bunkers. Even for the game’s best, trying to weave a fairway wood or long-iron into a 26-yard window can be challenging.

    “Six is a really hard hole, it really just depends on how you want to play it. If you want to take everything on and have a chance of hitting an iron into a par 5, or just kind of lay back and play it as a three-shot hole,” Thomas shrugged.

    It’s difficult to quantify precisely how short the 7,400-yard layout is playing. It’s not so far players are flying the ball in the air, particularly with relatively little wind in the forecast the rest of the week, so much as it is a question of how a particular shot will run out after it’s made contact with the firm turf.

    As the field began to get their first taste of the bouncy fun, one of the earliest indications something was askew came on Sunday when Padraig Harrington, who won The Open the last time it was played at Carnoustie in 2007, announced to the social world that he’d hit into the burn on the 18th hole.

    “This time it was the one at the green, 457 yards away,” the Irishman tweeted. “The fairways are a tad fast.”

    Most players have already resigned themselves to a steady diet of mid-irons off tees this week in an attempt to at least partially control the amount of run-out each shot will have.

    Jordan Spieth, the defending champion, hadn’t played a practice round prior to his media session, but could tell what’s in store just from his abbreviated range session on Monday. “Extremely baked out,” he said.

    The conditions have already led Spieth and his caddie, Micheal Greller, to conjure up a tentative game plan.

    “You might wear out your 5- and 4-irons off the tee instead of hitting 3- or 2-irons like you’re used to,” Greller told him.

    But even that might not be the answer, as Tommy Fleetwood discovered on Sunday during a practice round. Fleetwood has a unique connection with Carnoustie having shot the course record (63) during last year’s Dunhill Links Championship.

    The Englishman doesn’t expect his record to be in danger this week.

    In fact, he explained the dramatically different conditions were evident on the third hole on Sunday.

    “There’s holes that have been nothing tee shots, like the third. If you play that in the middle of September or October [when the Dunhill is played] and it’s green and soft, you could just hit a mid-iron down the fairway and knock it on with a wedge,” Fleetwood said. “Yesterday it was playing so firm, the fairways really undulate and you have bunkers on either side, it’s actually all of a sudden a tough tee shot.”

    The alternative to the iron game plan off the tee would be to simply hit driver, an option at least one long-hitter is considering this week if his practice round was any indication.

    On Sunday, Jon Rahm played aggressively off each tee, taking the ubiquitous fairway bunkers out of play but at the same time tempting fate with each fairway ringed by fescue rough, which is relatively tame given the dry conditions. But even that option has consequences.

    “It’s kind of strange where there’s not really a number that you know you’re going to be short,” said Fleetwood, who played his Sunday practice round with Rahm. “[Rahm] hit a drive on 15 that was like 400 yards. You just can’t account for that kind of stuff.”

    Whatever tactic players choose, this Open Championship promises to be a much different test than what players have become accustomed to at Carnoustie.

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    Fleetwood: Carnoustie course record won't help at Open

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 2:28 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tommy Fleetwood holds the competitive course record at Carnoustie, but he’s skeptical that his past experience will help him at The Open.

    Last fall, in the European Tour’s Dunhill Links Championship, Fleetwood birdied six of his last eight holes to card a bogey-free, 9-under 63, the lowest score ever at what is widely considered to be the most difficult course in the Open rota.

    No one expects a repeat this week at Carnoustie – not with the conditions this brown, firm and fast.

    “It’s a completely different course,” Fleetwood said Monday. “Shots that you’ve hit have literally no relevance for a lot of it.

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    “It doesn’t do any harm to have played it for a few years. It doesn’t do any harm to have a course record, but it’s a completely different challenge to what we normally face.”

    Fleetwood took a much-needed two-week break after the French Open, deciding to withdraw from last week’s Scottish Open for a bit more time in his own bed. (He said it was his last full week at home until mid-October.) Since his sparkling 63 to nearly steal the U.S. Open, the Englishman said that he’d “run out of steam” but now feels energized.  

    “There’s not really a good reason why I couldn’t do it (this week),” he said. “It really doesn’t matter what’s happened in the past. The only thing they could do is build your confidence and give you examples of what you can do – examples that you can end up there, and you have the game to compete.”