Wednesday, November 11, 2009

GUADALAJARA, Mexico (AP) — Lorena Ochoa has been the LPGA's player of the year three straight times, a string that could end this week at her own tournament.

Threatening to ruin the party at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational is 21-year-old South Korean Jiyai Shin. She has already won the rookie of the year award and leads Ochoa by four points in the player of the year contest.

Two tournaments remain, including next week's LPGA Tour Championship in Houston.

"It's been a year with a little bit more ups and downs," said Ochoa, the game's top-ranked player. "The great thing is that I have the opportunity to be player of the year again. It's going to be tough."

Shin has won three times this season, and she won three times last year on the LPGA Tour before she was even a member, including a victory in the 2008 Women's British Open. If she wins Ochoa's tournament on Sunday - and Ochoa finishes eighth or lower - Shin will be the player of the year.

The last player to pull off the double was Nancy Lopez in 1978.

Shin also leads the season money list with $1.7 million, ahead of Japan's Ai Miyazato with $1.5 million. Ochoa is fifth at $1.3 million.

No South Korean - not even veteran Se Ri Pak - has finished No. 1 on the money list, and no Korean has ever been player of the year. Shin is the sixth Korean to win rookie of the year.

"At the beginning of the season my goal was rookie of the year," Shin said. "But I've already made that and now I have a chance for player of the year, too. ... There's no pressure because I have already made my goal. Player of the year is a bonus thing for me."

Besides Shin and Ochoa, a few others have mathematical chances at player of the year, but they are long shots. They include: Cristie Kerr, Miyazato, Yani Tseng, Suzann Pettersen, Na Yeon Choi and Angela Stanford.

The 27-year-old Ochoa has won three times this season, but she failed to contend in any of the four majors. Of course, this season is being compared to the three previous when she won a combined 21 times, including two majors.

She's playing better after a midseason slump with top-five finishes in four of her last five tournaments, including a victory in the Navistar LPGA Classic a month ago.

But she's acknowledged that planning for her marriage next month and other off-course obligations have been a distraction.

"I'm going to try to play like it's any other week," Ochoa said. "I'll concentrate on my game and leave all the distractions outside the ropes."

The 36-player field at the Guadalajara Country Club - where Ochoa learned the game - is small but loaded with the top 31 on the LPGA money list, and five playing on sponsors exceptions. Included among the exceptions are Laura Davies, Natalie Gulbis and Juli Inkster.

"There is nothing nicer than playing at home," Ochoa said. "I'm going to do my best to enjoy the event."

And hope Shin doesn't spoil it.

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