Ochoa faces strong field; Wie healthy again

Lorena Ochoa, Samsung World Championship
Reed Saxon/AP
Lorena Ochoa worked on her putting Wednesday with her coach Rafael Alarcon.

PALM DESERT, Calif. (AP) — Lorena Ochoa add a stamp to her credentials as the LPGA's best player last year when she rallied to beat Annika Sorenstam in the Samsung World Championship.

Sorenstam isn't in the tournament this year, but Ochoa still faces a top field of challengers as she tries to make it two in a row.

"Winning here and playing that last round with Annika and coming from behind, it was something very special and important for my career," Ochoa said

"It was a lot of fun to finish strong last year and be able to play good so far this year."

Among the top threats to Ochoa's hopes of repeating are Norway's Suzann Pettersen, who birdied the second hole of a playoff to beat her on Sunday in the Longs Drugs Challenge for her third victory of the year; Morgan Pressel, who won the Kraft Nabisco, and U.S. Women's Open champion Cristie Kerr; Paula Creamer and Mi Hyun Kim.

Ochoa, the 2006 player of the year, has won six times this year — including the Women's British Open for her first major victory — and earned a tour-record $3,068,421.

"So a lot of positive things, improvement in my game and things we've been working on," she said. "I'm ready to start playing."

So is Michelle Wie, whose pro debut in the 2005 tournament at Big Horn Golf Club Country was a rousing success until after late in the final day. She was disqualified then for signing an incorrect scorecard after the third round. Otherwise, she would have finished fourth.

"A lot of good things, a lot of bad things happened to me at this event. It's been pretty traumatic. It's been pretty epic, actually. It's my birthday every single year this week, so I always take it as a new beginning," said Wie, who turns 18 on Thursday, opening day of the tournament.

"I think it's time for a new beginning. I'm really looking forward to it."

Wie, a freshman at Stanford, has been hampered by a wrist injury and struggled this year. In seven events, she has made just two cuts and earned a total of $9,899.

She said she's OK now.

"I am just so grateful for the fact that I am actually feeling really healthy right now," Wie said. "My wrist is feeling a lot better. I feel like I'm getting stronger. I feel healthy as a person, too, going to college, just having some fun.

"Just really working out and really practicing and just leaving everything behind."

Ochoa, who came from three shots back on the final day to beat Sorenstam last year, said she's sorry that Sorenstam isn't playing. But she supports the Swedish star's decision not to use an exemption to get into the elite event.

"What happened to her is very understandable, the way she got injured and tried just to slow down and not play as many tournaments," said Ochoa, who has supplanted Sorenstam as the LPGA Tour's top player.

"She has been through a lot. For sure I will miss her, not only me, but a lot of players and the sponsors, and everybody would like to have her here. But she will be back."

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