Ochoa Racing Toward Elusive First Major

By Associated PressJune 27, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 U.S. WomenSOUTHERN PINES, N.C. -- In the sweltering heat of late afternoon, Lorena Ochoa kept a steady stride as she ran briskly along the fairways and pine trees, rarely taking her eyes off the cart path.
 
Constantly pushing herself to get stronger, fitter and better, Ochoa also is starting to race time.
 
Lorena Ochoa
Lorena Ochoa signs autographs Wednesday at Pine Needles. (Getty Images)
The Mexican star is only 25, in only her fifth year on the LPGA Tour. But she can no longer escape the question of when the No. 1 player in women's golf will win her first major.
 
Surely, this would be the year.
 
'I'm ready,' she has said at the start of each major, only to have something go wrong.
 
At the Kraft Nabisco, it was a quadruple bogey on the 17th hole of the third round. At the LPGA Championship three weeks ago, she never got on track, struggling to string together birdies.
 
The next chance begins Thursday at Pine Needles in the U.S. Women's Open, the biggest event in women's golf, and one that highlights Ochoa's failure in the majors.
 
It was two years ago at Cherry Hills when Ochoa, starting the final round an hour before the leaders, was on her way to a 68 that would have given her the clubhouse lead, a score that would have set an intimidating target. But the nerves kicked in on the 18th tee, and her tee shot was combination duck-hook and pop-up, nowhere to go but the water. She finished with a quadruple-bogey 8.
 
'I think I wasn't ready. That's probably why it didn't happen,' Ochoa said. 'I'm ready today. I've been learning a lot in the past experiences. I made some big mistakes, but I think I'm ready to get a major. It will be amazing to get the U.S. Open. So now that we're here this week, why not win on Sunday?'
 
Ochoa arrived in Pine Needles in good spirits.
 
She is coming off her third victory of the season, winning in a playoff for the first time in her LPGA career.
 
'It helps a lot coming into this week,' Ochoa said. 'Instead of being down and upset, I'm really happy and positive about my game.'
 
If history is on her side, it's the fact that Pine Needles has crowned only the best as its champions. Annika Sorenstam won the Women's Open in 1996 by hitting 51 of 56 fairways for a five-shot victory. Six years ago, Karrie Webb won by eight shots at Pine Needles, making her 5-of-8 in the majors.
 
But this is a daunting task for Ochoa and the rest of the 155 players at Pine Needles.
 
The course has been stretched some 400 yards, although it will play one stroke higher to a par 71. The fairways are generous. But the greens can be difficult to hold, and they drop off severely at the edges.
 
Typical of most U.S. Women's Open, this is a mixed crowd.
 
On one end are the veterans, such as 47-year-old Juli Inkster and Sorenstam, who is 36 and recovering from back and neck injuries that kept her out of competition for two months. Even someone like Webb, 32, is labeled as an old-timer considering the company she keeps. There are two dozen teenagers, a list that does not include 12-year-old Alexis Thompson, the youngest qualifier ever.
 
'I feel old out here, and I'm 26,' said Suzann Pettersen, the dominant player in the majors this year with a runner-up finish at the Kraft Nabisco and a victory at the LPGA Championship.
 
Ochoa doesn't feel any older than her 25 years, even without a major.
 
She is eager to get rid of the questions, but not to the point where she is starting to press. Ochoa is comfortable with who she is and what she has accomplished, and she figures a major title is only a matter of time.
 
'I think she's been the best player,' Webb said. 'I don't think any of the players question that. I know she's trying very hard to win her first major, and I'm sure that's a milestone for her that she's hoping to achieve as soon as possible.'
 
Ochoa finds support wherever she goes, and for good reason.
 
She is as humble as any player who has risen to No. 1, stopping during her practice round Tuesday to pose with Mexican maintenance workers for pictures. She is inspired to see the Mexican flag waving in the gallery, a common occurrence in California. She cried while watching Angel Cabrera of Argentina win the U.S. Open at Oakmont.
 
She has become one of the biggest stars, even if she doesn't act like one.
 
A month ago at the Ginn Tribute in South Carolina, the founding members of the LPGA Tour were honored at a dinner, and some asked Ochoa for her autograph. She obliged, then realized it should have been the other way around.
 
'My autograph doesn't mean anything,' she said. 'I went back and got all of their autographs. The first thing I was taught was to respect the players, especially the players who have been here for a long time. They have their place. For me, forget my place. Just watch and respect.'
 
For someone supposedly under enormous pressure, Ochoa looks as though she's having the time of her life. She hardly spoke English when she arrived at the University of Arizona seven years ago and still takes pride in learning new words each day.
 
Her cousin, who lives in San Diego, taught her to say 'delightful' instead of 'good' when anyone asked her about her day. When she sat before a room of reporters Tuesday, the cousin offered the first question.
 
'How was your day today?' he said.
 
Ochoa stared at him, then started laughing.
 
'I forgot the word,' she said, half-embarrassed. 'Delightful.'
 
What word would she use for winning a major? Ochoa thought about this on the practice green Wednesday, and offered one in Spanish.
 
'Maravilloso,' she said with a smile, and that needed no translation.
 
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    Lyle birdies last hole in likely his final Open start

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 4:32 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – If this was Sandy Lyle’s final Open appearance, he went out in style.

    Playing on the final year of his automatic age exemption, the 60-year-old Scot buried a 30-foot birdie on the last hole. He missed the cut after shooting 9-over 151 over two rounds.

    “I was very light-footed,” he said. “I was on cloud nine walking down the 18th. To make birdie was extra special.”


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

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    Lyle, who also won the 1988 Masters, has missed the cut in his last eight majors, dating to 2014. He hasn’t been competitive in The Open since 1998, when he tied for 19th.

    To continue playing in The Open, Lyle needed to finish in the top 10 here at Carnoustie. He’d earn a future exemption by winning the Senior British Open.

    “More punishment,” he said.

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    DJ, Thomas miss cut at Open; No. 1 up for grabs

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 3:35 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The top two players in the world both missed the cut at The Open, creating the possibility of a shakeup at the top of the rankings by the end of the weekend.

    Dustin Johnson became the first world No. 1 since Luke Donald in 2011 to miss the cut at the year’s third major.

    Johnson played solidly for all but the closing stretch. Over two rounds, he was 6 over par on the last three holes. He finished at 6-over 148.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    Thomas added to what’s been a surprisingly poor Open record. Just like last year, when he struggled in the second round in the rain at Royal Birkdale, Thomas slumped to a 77 on Friday at Carnoustie, a round that included three consecutive double bogeys on Nos. 6-8. He finished at 4-over 146.

    It’s Thomas' first missed cut since The Open last year. Indeed, in three Open appearances, he has two missed cuts and a tie for 53rd.  

    With Johnson and Thomas out of the mix, the No. 1 spot in the rankings is up for grabs this weekend.

    Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can reach No. 1 with a victory this week.

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    TT Postscript: Woods (71) makes cut, has work to do

    By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 3:32 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Here are a few things I think I think after Tiger Woods shot a second consecutive even-par 71 Friday in the second round. And yes, he made the cut:

    • Tiger said all 71s are not created equal. On Thursday, he made three birdies and three bogeys. On Friday, he made four birdie and four bogeys. Which round was better? The first. His theory is that, despite the rain, conditions were easier in the second round and there were more scoring opportunities. He didn't take advantage.

    • This is the first time since the 2013 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes that Tiger shot par or better in each of the first two rounds of a major. That’s quite a long time ago.

    • Stat line for the day: 11 of 15 fairways, 13 of 18 greens, 32 total putts. Tiger hit one driver and two 3-woods on Thursday and four drivers on Friday, only one which found the fairway. An errant drive at the second led to him sniping his next shot into the gallery

     


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    • In his own words: “I could have cleaned up the round just a little bit. I got off to not exactly the best start, being 2 over through three, but got it back. The golf course was a little bit softer today, obviously. It rains, and we were able to get the ball down a little bit further, control the ball on the ground a little bit easier today, which was nice.”

    • At some point Tiger is going to have to be more aggressive. He will be quite a few shots off the lead by day’s end and he'll have a lot of ground to make up. Hitting irons off the tee is great for position golf, but it’s often leaving him more than 200 yards into the green. Not exactly a range for easy birdies.

    • Sure, it’s too soon to say Tiger can’t win a fourth claret jug, but with so many big names ahead of him on the leaderboard, it’s unlikely. Keep in mind that a top-six finish would guarantee him a spot in the WGC: Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks. At The Players, he stated that this was a big goal.

    • My Twitter account got suspended momentarily when Tiger was standing over a birdie putt on the 17th green. That was the most panicked I’ve been since Tiger was in contention at the Valspar.

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    Woods fires shot into crowd: 'I kept moving them back'

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 3:14 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It added up to another even-par round, but Tiger Woods had an eventful Friday at The Open.

    His adventure started on the second hole, when he wiped a drive into the right rough. Standing awkwardly on the side of a mound, he prepared for a quick hook but instead fired one into the crowd that was hovering near the rope line.

    “I kept moving them back,” he said. “I moved them back about 40 yards. I was trying to play for the grass to wrap the shaft around there and hit it left, and I was just trying to hold the face open as much as I possibly could. It grabbed the shaft and smothered it.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “I was very, very fortunate that I got far enough down there where I had a full wedge into the green.”

    Woods bogeyed the hole, one of four on the day, and carded four birdies in his round of 71 at Carnoustie. When he walked off the course, he was in a tie for 30th, six shots off the clubhouse lead.

    It’s the first time in five years – since the 2013 Open – that Woods has opened a major with consecutive rounds of par or better. He went on to tie for sixth that year at Muirfield.