This was Ochoa's 19th career victory.
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Monday, March 31, 2008

SUPERSTITION MOUNTAIN, Ariz. (AP) — Lorena Ochoa left her pursuers in the desert dust on Sunday to successfully defend her title at the Safeway International with a dominating seven-stroke victory.

The 26-year-old sensation, with three big flags from her native Mexico waving in the crowd on the final hole, shot a 6-under 66 to finish at 22-under 266. She won for the second time in three tries in the young LPGA Tour season.

It was the lowest score, by four shots, in the five years the tournament has been held at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club.

Ochoa turned the tournament into a rout with birdies on the 13th, 14th and 15th holes, then punctuated her 19th career tour victory with a birdie tap-in on the 18th.

"It was a great day," she said, "especially the back nine."

The world's No. 1-ranked female golfer and the LPGA Tour player of the year the past two seasons won eight times last year and has 16 victories in her last 53 starts.

She was supported by a big crowd, including a man waving a Mexican flag who followed her the entire round.

"It was very nice to see the support and the love. They care so much," she said. "The know that I play not only for me but for all of them."

Her would-be rivals faded under a bright blue sky with temperatures in the mid-80s and a brisk easterly wind at the foot of the Superstition Mountains, about 40 miles east of Phoenix.

South Korea's Jee Young Lee, who began the day one shot back, shot an even-par 72 to finish at 15 under. The 22-year-old Lee was paired with Ochoa, a match of two of the bigger hitters on tour.

Ochoa was asked who was longer on Sunday.

"I think me," she said, laughing. "We were close all day, but we were counting, and I think I got her by two."

Through her interpreter, Lee said she watched the way Ochoa handled the pressure.

"She's a great player," Lee said. "She knows how to keep pace. That's something I really need to learn from her. She always kept steady."

Mine Blomqvist of Finland (66) was third at 14 under, her best LPGA finish.

The LPGA's lone Arizona stop has the largest attendance of any tour event, but it faces an uncertain future because Safeway is dropping its sponsorship.

Ochoa, who earned $225,000, has said she would do whatever she could to keep the tournament alive. She called the open, desert layout her favorite course on the tour. She attended the University of Arizona and the event is close enough for her Mexican fans to come to watch her play. She had eight birdies, and two early bogeys, on the 6,662-yard Prospector course.

Angela Stanford, who broke the course record with a career-best 10-under 62 in the opening round, tied with Eun-Hee Ji of South Korea and Maria Hjorth of Sweden at 12 under.

The final round had the look of a shootout when it began, with Ochoa at 16 under, just one shot up on Lee and Stanford.

But her two pursuers faltered, especially Stanford, who shot a 2-over 74, including a triple bogey on the par-5, 552-yard 13th.

Stanford pulled even with Ochoa with a birdie on the first hole. But Ochoa took the lead for good with a birdie on the par-3 fourth.

Leta Lindley aced the 188-yard eighth hole with a 5-wood. She finished with a 68 to tie for 22nd at 7 under.

The tour moves next week to Rancho Mirage, Calif., for the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first of the LPGA Tour's four majors.

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