Ochoa Victory Could Signal LPGA Power Shift
The way Sorenstam had been rolling over opponents and piling up trophies, the 36-year-old Swede quickly was approaching Whitworth's 88 career victories. Sorenstam had averaged nearly nine wins a year since 2001 -- at that pace, she could have broken the record before her 40th birthday.
But that sprint has slowed considerably.
With two tournaments remaining on her 2006 schedule, Sorenstam has won three times this year, her lowest output since winning twice in 1999. Part of that is the balance she has found in her life, including a golf academy she is opening in Orlando, Fla.
And part of that is the competition.
Ochoa's victory in the Samsung World Championship was her fifth of the year. It not only denied Sorenstam her 70th career victory, it kept her from setting an LPGA record with six straight years leading the tour in victories.
One tournament doesn't make a season. One victory doesn't mean there's a new sheriff in town.
Sorenstam is the five-time defending champion at the Mizuno Classic in Japan in two weeks, and the two-time defending champion at the season-ending ADT Championship. She could win them both and capture the money title, maybe even LPGA player of the year.
But there was something symbolic about the way Ochoa ran her down in the desert.
Starting the final round three shots behind, Ochoa sensed this was her time. She erased the deficit in three holes with two birdies and a 45-foot eagle putt. The pivotal hole was No. 10, and some luck was involved. Ochoa made a birdie putt from across the green that would have gone well past the hole had it not banged into the back of the cup and dropped in the side.
Even so, it was as if Ochoa saw this coming.
She was asked after the third round whether she could beat Sorenstam.
There was a pause, and a slight smile crept across her face.
'You want more?' she said, as if to say, 'Isn't that enough?'
Then she obliged with a beautiful blend of giving Sorenstam her due and having a quiet confidence in her own game, something not often heard from today's wannabe challengers who grow up talking about wanting to be No. 1.
'I know she is tough. I think she is a great player. She knows this course so much better than me and she has so much experience, and I respect all that,' Ochoa said. 'At the same time, I believe in myself. I'm in a good position right now. I know I can do it.'
Ochoa had played against Sorenstam two other times in the final group. She blew a four-shot lead in the final three holes and lost to Sorenstam in a playoff in Phoenix last year, and Sorenstam birdied the final hole in Sweden this summer to win by one shot.
The young Mexican star has had her share of stumbles.
Along with that collapse in Phoenix, she had a chance to win the U.S. Women's Open at Cherry Hills last year when she duck-hooked her tee shot into the water on No. 18 and took a quadruple-bogey 8. And while she made eagle on the 18th hole to get into a playoff this year at the Kraft Nabisco, Ochoa blew a three-shot lead in the final round and lost on the first extra hole.
'When you make mistakes your first year or second year, you get them out of your way and then you make good things come,' she said. 'I'm a positive person, and I learn a lot and it's not going to happen again, those bad shots.'
Maybe the best is yet to come, especially in the majors, the one gap in her credentials this year.
And that won't make it easier for Sorenstam.
Motivation has never been an issue with Sorenstam. Even when she failed in her bid to win the Grand Slam, either after the first major or the third, she was a master at redefining her goals and achieving them.
What she has lacked over the last five years is serious competition.
Ever since Karrie Webb eased into the background after dominating the majors for three years, the closest anyone has come to challenging Sorenstam's supremacy during the last five years was Se Ri Pak, a battle that didn't last long.
Just as it is with Tiger Woods, the gap is as big as Sorenstam wants it to be.
Ochoa is different. She set an NCAA record by winning eight straight tournaments at Arizona, and she has never finished lower than ninth on the LPGA Tour money list in her four years. Unlike the American youth getting all the hype, Ochoa delivers.
Sorenstam's swing has not been up to her standards this year, and she said last week that some mechanical issues have cost her length off the tee, problems that she was trying to fix as the season wound down. Ochoa was driving the ball slightly longer than Sorenstam at Bighorn, and she is a superior putter.
Their duel in the desert bore a minor resemblance to Woods and Vijay Singh in Boston two years ago, when Singh beat him head-to-head in the final round to replace Woods at No. 1 in the world. Singh went on to win nine times that year and dominated golf until Woods returned to the top with six victories the next year, including two majors.
Singh, however, was 41 and headed toward the twilight of his career.
Ochoa is 24 and just getting started.
Watch: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him
It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.
Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.
The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:
The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.
For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.
Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter
After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.
But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.
Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":
Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.
Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.
Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.
The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.
“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.
In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.
“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”
Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.
“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.
Rose: T-2 finish renewed my love of The Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Rose made the cut on the number at The Open and was out for an early Saturday morning stroll at Carnoustie when, all of a sudden, he started putting together one great shot after another.
There was no pressure. No one had expected anything from someone so far off the lead. Yet Rose shot 30 on the final nine holes to turn in 7-under 64, the lowest round of the championship. By day’s end he was five shots behind a trio of leaders that included Jordan Spieth.
Rose followed the 64 with a Sunday 69 to tie for second place, two shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. His 133 total over the weekend was the lowest by a shot, and for a moment he thought he had a chance to hoist the claret jug, until Molinari put on a ball-striking clinic down the stretch with birdies on 14 and 18.
“I just think having made the cut number, it’s a great effort to be relevant on the leaderboard on Sunday,” said Rose, who collected his third-career runner-up in a major. He’s also finished 12th or better in all three majors this year.
In the final round, Rose was well off the pace until his second shot on the par-5 14th hole hit the pin. He had a tap-in eagle to move to 5 under. Birdie at the last moved him to 6 under and made him the clubhouse leader for a few moments.
“It just proves to me that I can play well in this tournament, that I can win The Open,” Rose said. “When I’m in the hunt, I enjoy it. I play my best golf. I don’t back away.
“That was a real positive for me, and it renewed the love of The Open for me.”