Ochoa on Tiger: 'We both had a great year'
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) Lorena Ochoa was the best player on the LPGA Tour this year, proven by her seven victories, her first major championship and sweeping all the significant awards. She worked hard for this, and she is proud.
But was she the best in all of golf? Better than Tiger Woods?
On this question, she will gladly settle for a tie.
"I'm OK with both being the same and both have a great year," Ochoa said Wednesday at the season-ending ADT Championship, where a victory would push her over the $4 million mark, an astounding figure for women's golf.
"Maybe next year I improve (on) his year," she said with a laugh. "But this year has been pretty similar, and I enjoy the that they talk about it. He won seven times - a major, too. Me, too. So we're the same."
Then she smiled again, enjoying the banter.
Ochoa turns 26 on Thursday, and she has more to celebrate than her birthday. It has been a season she only dreamed about in Mexico when she was 13 and told her coach that her goal was to be the No. 1 player in the world.
She wasn't even sure who was the best back then, probably Laura Davies. Annika Sorenstam had zero wins on the LPGA Tour as a rookie, and Karrie Webb was a year away from winning the Women's British Open - not yet a major - at age 20.
"I told my coach that I wanted to be No. 1 in the world. 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. "But I did it. It took me a long time, but I did it."
In that respect, Woods gets the nod.
He won a major and became No. 1 his first full year as a professional, and there has been no stopping him except the odd years that David Duval (1999) and Vijay Singh (2004) briefly took over.
Ochoa finally caught up to and passed Sorenstam in the spring, and she's not about to look back. Perhaps that's a trait she picked up from mountain climbing as a child. So focused on what she is doing, Ochoa pays little attention to anything around - or behind - her.
"I just try to concentrate on myself and make sure I stay one step ahead and work really hard," Ochoa said. "I like to stay on top, so I'm going to make sure I do whatever it takes to stay at the top."
She has nothing to prove at Trump International.
Even with $1 million going to the winner of this quirky event, Ochoa already has locked up the LPGA money title for the second straight year. She has earned $3.3 million, more than $1.5 million ahead of LPGA champion Suzann Pettersen.
But she is still climbing.
Ochoa was on the course Monday, and when she got to the pivotal three closing holes at Trump, she wound up hitting a half-dozen balls to different areas of the greens. And she made a few birdies, which doesn't hurt.
Sorenstam, meanwhile, is a little more desperate.
In a strange year in which her greatest joy has come off the golf course, the ADT Championship is her last chance to avoid her first winless season since she was a rookie in 1994. Sorenstam only qualified for the 32-player field last week, when she had her third straight top 10 for the first time all year. That put her up to No. 25 on the money list.
"It's not a year that is something you really put on a resume," Sorenstam said.
But there's a good reason for her becoming just another face on the LPGA Tour this year. Sorenstam was diagnosed with back and neck injuries in April after a lackluster start to her season, and she wound up missing nearly two months of competition. Even when she returned at her Ginn Tribute, and for the final three majors, she was hardly at full strength.
And the landscape of the LPGA Tour changed before her eyes.
First came Ochoa, replacing her at No. 1 in the world ranking this spring and stretching her lead to leave no doubt who's the best. Then came Pettersen, who won her first major among five LPGA titles this year.
Sorenstam is stuck on 69 victories, still third on the career list in LPGA history. For most of this decade, her only rival seemed to be Kathy Whitworth and her record 88 victories, and it most thought it was only a matter of time before Sorenstam caught her.
"It wasn't until those few years when I was really hot and I was winning events that I thought, 'Well, maybe that's even possible.' Now, it's just getting back to the game and even trying to win one event," Sorenstam said. "Right now, I don't really have that in my sights. It's not something that motivates me. I'm focusing on next season and giving it my all."
No doubt, Ochoa will be the one to chase.
"Annika, because of her condition with her back, we knew she was going to have a slow year," Ochoa said. "I think what is going to be really exciting is to see next year how everything comes together. I think it's going to be a great year."