Golfer Lorena Ochoa keeps climbing, selected AP female athlete of year

Lorena Ochoa, ADT Championship
Dave Martin/Getty Images
Lorena Ochoa won seven times this year.

(AP) -- Lorena Ochoa didn't have a blueprint for becoming the best in the world, and she certainly didn't have a role model. Mexico had yet to produce anything resembling a world-class golfer, and Ochoa did not look like one at age 12.

So it was surprising when she told her coach she wanted to be No. 1.

"At that time, with the way I was playing, and being in Guadalajara, it was a little bit crazy to think that way," Ochoa said toward the end of a historic season. "But I did it. It took me a long time, but I did it."

It might have seemed like a long time from when she was 12, but she took only five years on the LPGA Tour to establish her reign.

She replaced Annika Sorenstam at No. 1 in the women's world ranking. She captured her first major championship at the Women's British Open, making history as the first female to win a professional event at St. Andrews. And she capped off the year with a fearless shot that defines her style, becoming the first LPGA Tour player to top $4 million in one season.

Maybe it wasn't such a crazy dream.

Such was her dominance that for the second straight year, Ochoa was the overwhelming choice as the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year. It was the fifth straight year a golfer has captured the Female Athlete award, the longest streak of any sport.

Ochoa received 71 votes from members of The Associated Press, equal to the combined total of the next seven athletes below her on the list.

She joined Sorenstam, Kathy Whitworth, Mickey Wright and Babe Zaharias as the only golfers to win the award in consecutive years.

"Being compared with such exceptional players makes me feel honored," Ochoa said in an e-mail from Mexico, where she is spending a hard-earned vacation. "My main goal is to maintain myself as the No. 1. Therefore, I can promise to keep improving."

Justine Henin, who won her third straight French Open title in tennis, was second with 17 votes. Rounding out the top five were New York Marathon winner Paula Radcliffe, Tennessee basketball player Candace Parker and Allyson Felix, the second woman in history to win three gold medals at the World Track and Field Championships.

Tom Brady, who led the New England Patriots to 14 consecutive wins and was on pace to break Peyton Manning's single season touchdown pass record of 49, was the AP Male Athlete of the Year. Brady received 51 votes, 18 more than runner-up Roger Federer, the Swiss tennis star who won his 5th consecutive Wimbledon and 4th consecutive U.S. Open, his 11th and 12th Grand Slam titles.

Never afraid to fail, Ochoa has been scaling heights since she was a girl.

She broke both wrists when she fell 15 feet from a tree at age 5. When she was 12, she trained six months to climb the snowcapped top of Pico de Orizaba, Mexico's tallest mountain at 18,405 feet.

Her rise to No. 1 also was hard work.

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