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Ochoa Takes Control in Alabama

2006 Mitchell Co. Tournament of ChampionsMOBILE, Ala. -- This close to clinching Player of the Year, all Lorena Ochoa did was shoot the best round of the week.
Ochoa fired a 9-under 63 on Saturday and began to pull away at the Mitchell Company Tournament of Champions, where a win would clinch the Mexican her first LPGA Player of the Year award.
She had an eagle, eight birdies and just one bogey in the third round to reach 14-under-par 202 for a five-shot lead over 2005 Rookie of the Year Paula Creamer.
'Well, it was an easy day today,' Ochoa said. 'If you think about it, the conditions were really tough, windy, and it got cold at the end. But it was one of those days that everything worked, and I was hitting the ball good.'
Already a five-time winner this season and the LPGA's leading money winner, Ochoa is now within tap-in range of becoming the first player other than Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb to win Player of the Year since 1996.
'This is a really big tournament for me because of that,' said Ochoa. 'I think it will be a lot easier to get that done, Player of the Year. But this is a tough tournament, and the golf course is playing tough.
'Tomorrow, I'm just glad I am in a good position. I'm glad that I'm in the final group. That was my goal, just to really have a chance to win the tournament.'
Webb, also a five-time winner this season, is second on the money list behind Ochoa, but declined an invitation this week. Sorenstam, having an off season by her standards, shunned the LPGA to play with the men in a PGA TOUR 'challenge season' event.
Which leaves Ochoa vying for the LPGA's top award without her closest two challengers around to stop her.
Not that it's been a breeze.
On Friday, Ochoa began her second round with a disastrous quadruple-bogey eight at the par-4 first hole. Since then, she has played 35 holes at 12 under par.
Saturday, Ochoa made a birdie at the third, an eagle at the par-5 fourth, and another birdie at the fifth. For her eagle at No. 4, Ochoa knocked a hybrid club within 2 feet.
She stumbled to her only bogey of the round at the par-3 eighth, where she landed short of the green and inside a bunker, but got that stroke back with a birdie at the ninth to make the turn at 9 under.
Ochoa went on another birdie run after that, making five over the next seven holes to pull away from the field. Her longest birdie putt during the stretch was from 13 feet at the 12th; the shortest was a 6-footer at the 14th.
On the 18th green, Ochoa had a birdie putt lip out. It would have moved her to 10-under par on the day and given her a share of the tournament record, held by Carin Koch (2002).
'My caddy, he caddied the 10 under, and he mentioned the 10 under,' Ochoa admitted. 'So I knew there was one before and I was trying hard to go 10 under. Actually, the last putt I had it just lipped out. It's a great day.'
Creamer, the first-round leader, had a 3-under 69 on Saturday and is alone in second place at 9-under 207.
'I'm still in the last group, which is nice,' Creamer said, reacting to Ochoa's round. 'She has been playing really well, so that will only help me motivate myself out there.'
Juli Inkster shot a 73 and is third at 7-under 209, and Stacy Prammanasudh is one shot further back at 210 following a 71.
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