Ochoa played the final 22 holes of her 29-hole marathon in 7 under par, leaving her one shot behind Ji-Yai Shin in the middle of the third round, another great chance to validate her status as the No. 1 player in women's golf.
She hated to stop playing. She can't wait to return for 25 holes on Sunday.
'I feel prepared to win a major,' Ochoa said. 'Tomorrow is going to be a special day.'
Saturday was simply a long one.
The second round did not end until about 3 p.m. The leaders only made it through 10 holes of the third round. But a tournament that had been a series of starts and stops because of stormy weather finally began to take shape.
In the lead was Shin, a 19-year-old from South Korea playing her first U.S. Women's Open, who has overcome far more than anything Pine Needles has to offer. Her mother was killed in a car accident taking her to an amateur tournament, and Shin needed time to recover from injuries and find desire to keep playing.
She birdied the final hole she played, the par-5 10th, to put her at 5 under for the tournament.
Joining Ochoa at 4 under was Cristie Kerr, a 29-year-old American who often gets overlooked in the hype of younger stars. She had time to fix her swing between the second and third rounds, and ran off five birdies in an eight-hole stretch that put her 5 under for her round, one out of the lead in her quest for a first major.
Angela Park, the 36-hole leader after shooting 69 in the morning, would love nothing more than to make it a South American sweep of the U.S. Open golf tournaments. She was born in Brazil, and figures her name is close is enough to Angel Cabrera that it would make sense for the 18-year-old to capture a major.
Morgan Pressel, who won the Kraft Nabisco three months ago at age 18 to become the youngest LPGA major champion in history, overcame some tentative putting to make two birdies over her final four holes and was at 3 under par.
'I haven't shot myself out of anything,' Pressel said.
It set the stage for what could be a dynamic Sunday, especially with sunshine in the forecast.
'We still have a lot of holes left, but I like where I am right now,' Ochoa said.
It was another early exit for Michelle Wie, overtime for everyone else.
Wie walked off the course halfway through her second round, saying her left wrist was sore when she woke up and got even worse when she tried to play. She shot 42 on the back nine and was headed for another round in the 80s when she withdrew, and her future was never more clouded.
'There's good days and bad days,' she said. 'And obviously, today was not a good day. I just have to re-evaluate, make some smart choices and see how it works out.'
Pine Needles was cloudy, too, but the tournament caught a huge break when the nasty weather stayed away from the 7:30 a.m. resumption of the second round until it was too dark to matter.
But there was enough light for Ochoa's wish to come true.
'I think that I'm close enough,' Ochoa said after rallying in the second round for a second straight 71, leaving her five shots behind Park after 36 holes. 'Hopefully, my name means something on the leaderboard, and I'm ready to play a good round.'
Turns out the 25-year-old Mexican star was ready.
Her eagle putt from just short of the first green lipped out, giving her an easy birdie. She poured in a 10-foot birdie on the par-3 third, and gave herself plenty of chances for more birdies, not missing a fairway on the front nine.
In the twilight of the sand hills, several Mexicans from the Pine Needles grounds crew added to her gallery, carrying her along.
'Vamos Lorena!' they cried.
She delivered with a 7-foot birdie on the ninth, and a 20-foot birdie on the 10th to pull into a share of the lead. Ochoa was in the 12th fairway when she chose not to finish the hole.
Shin was at 3-under 139, along with Amy Hung (69) and Julieta Granada (69) after the second round was completed.
Shin missed a 4-foot eagle attempt on the first hole, ran off a string of pars then took advantage of the tees being moved forward on the par-5 10th for a birdie that gave her the lead.
Kerr had one big par save in the middle of her birdie run, leaving her in good shape to finally get some attention.
For all the talk about American youth, she gets forgotten in a world of Pressel, Paula Creamer and Brittany Lincicome. Kerr was among the pioneers who turned pro out of high school 11 years ago, and the 29-year-old from Miami already has compiled nine victories.
This might be her best shot at a major.
'It's been a very long day of golf, and I'm looking forward to the rest tonight and just doing the best I can, and honestly I'm not going to put any pressure on myself,' Kerr said.
She was more thrilled to get her swing sorted out than posting a string of birdies, figuring the score will take care of itself.
Pressel got off to a rugged start, failing to birdie the easy first hole, three-putted for bogey on the second and missing a short birdie attempt on her next hole. But she got on track with a birdie on the sixth, and was 2 under for her round through 11 holes.
Defending champion Annika Sorenstam remained nine shots behind with six holes remaining in her third round. She traded birdies and bogeys, and didn't look like she was ready to make any kind of charge required to get into contention.