Aaron Baddeley won the Verizon Heritage Classic on the PGA TOUR ' hes young (25) but certainly not inexperienced (going on four years on tour.) And Lorena Ochoa is young (24) but certainly not inexperienced (also in her fourth year with four LPGA wins.) Ochoa won the Takefuji Classic.
Just one tournament ago ' a major, the Kraft Nabisco classic ' Ochoa suffered a terrible defeat that may well have scuttled the career of a lesser young woman. After a white-hot 62 in the first round, she led the field by six strokes late in the second round. And she still led by three going into the final round.
But Ochoa had her problems on the final day, losing the lead, then coming back to make eagle on the 72nd hole and force a playoff. But she eventually lost it when Karrie Webb made a birdie on the playoff hole.
Actually, that was the second playoff loss for Ochoa this young season. She lost the LPGA opener, the SBS Open, when she failed to make a birdie putt from eight feet. And who can ever forget the U.S. Womens Open last year, when she plunked her ball into the water on the 72nd hole while tied for the lead ' or the Safeway International last year when she self-detonated after leading Annika Sorenstam by four with only three holes remaining.
Ochoa has been burned so often that she has scorch marks up and down her spine. But the win last weekend proved that she hasnt wavered ' she finished this one by shooting a 66 in the final round, this after leading by two shots after Saturday. Frustration definitely hasnt set in yet.
See, it's not frustration, she said in her delightful Mexican accent.
I will say sometimes they (the close losses) really hit you, and you kind of get down a little bit. But I always told myself, just don't be too hard on yourself, you are starting to win tournaments, and get the lead or to win a tournament, a playoff.
And I always say that to myself - don't be too hard on yourself. Just learn from what happened and keep it going. And we play so many weeks out here that it's nice just to say, I'm going to get them next week. It's good.
Her troubles in finishing off tournaments have made her stronger, she says. And though she now stands 0-3 in playoffs ' including the big one in the Kraft Nabisco ' she says the extra-hole losses have made her stronger, not weaker.
I think those playoffs really teach me when you are under pressure, how to just focus, and how to just really be aggressive whenever you need to be aggressive, she said. You know, at the end, they help you for the experience and get better for your golf, and I think that's what they did.
What happened a couple of weeks ago just made me a better player, and also makes me want to win so bad that I just came really strong this week. And I tried to take everything as being positive. And I'm going to keep doing that.
Proof of her resolve came on the final hole. Ahead by two strokes and facing a par-5 over water, she went for the green on the second shot, ignoring the layup.
Well, I'm trying to get better and better, Ochoa simply explained, and it was a good situation. I knew I had a two-shot lead, and if you lay up on that hole, it's almost harder that third shot into the wind uphill, the pin in the front. I told myself, Make sure you hit it long in the middle of the green long, and it will be easier to make birdie coming from behind.' So it was really a hundred percent sure just to go for it.
Baddeley hasnt had nearly the excitement of Ochoa, but he has been out on tour just as long after three early wins in his native Australia while he was still a teen-ager.
I feel like I've been out here forever, said a relieved Baddeley after his first tour win.
I mean that's what it feels like, and I'm only 25 - playing PGA TOUR events since I was 18. And it's been like six years, seven years since I've been playing out here. It does feel like a long time, but it's definitely worth the wait.
For Ochoa and for Baddeley, it must have seemed like it would never happen - for Ochoa it probably seemed like it would never happen again. But it happened on the same weekend, and it undoubtedly will be a little easier the next time around.
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