Wednesday, March 04, 2009

SINGAPORE (AP) Fresh from winning her opening tournament of the season, No. 1-ranked Lorena Ochoa will defend her crown this week in Asia's richest women's golf tournament, the $2 million HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore.

Ochoa, who won here last year by 11 strokes, will take on 34 of the 40 top-ranked players in the 78-woman field, including Americans Paula Creamer, Angela Stanford, Cristie Kerr, and Natalie Gulbis at the par-72, 6,547-yard Tanah Merah Country Club course.

Ochoa is also eyeing a group of young Asian stars, including world No. 2 Yani Tseng of Taiwan, after winning her 25th career title at last week's Honda LPGA Thailand.

``It's great that now there's a whole new generation of players to challenge me,'' said Ochoa, a 27-year-old from Mexico. ``All of them are very young, and they're not afraid.''

Ochoa started moderately last week in Thailand but improved to record a three-stroke victory over South Korea's Hee Young Park. Creamer led by three strokes entering the final round, but shot a 73 to finish third, four strokes back.

Tseng, who at 19 years old last year was the youngest player to win the LPGA Championship, said she plans to get off to a fast start in Thursday's opening round in her bid to knock Ochoa from her perch atop the rankings.

``My goal this year is to be world No. 1 ,'' Tseng said. ``I will be looking for a great start with a lot of birdies.''

Tseng joins a slew of young Korean stars - 17 of the top 50 players are from South Korea - who have begun to make a name for themselves in a women's golf scene in transition after the retirement of Sweden's Annika Sorenstam and the fading of other experienced stars.

``Until recently things were being dominated by a few more experienced players,'' said fourth-ranked Suzann Pettersen of Norway. ``Suddenly these girls have come in and shaken up the mix at the top of women's golf.''

Local fans will be cheering on 15-year-old Joey Poh, who qualified by winning an amateur tournament last month.

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