Despite wasted chances, Ochoa still atop leaderboard

Despite wasted chances, Ochoa still atop leaderboard

Lorena Ochoa made three birdies and two bogeys.
Chris Carlson/AP

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) — Lorena Ochoa wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry, so she did neither.

She opened the second round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship by missing a 10-foot birdie chance. Then came consecutive misses from about 6 feet, each putt costing her a chance to pull away. The last putt of her second round was from 8 feet, and this was for the outright lead.

“It was pretty much in the middle of the hole,” Ochoa said. “And just at the end, it decided to go left and lipid out. I didn’t have anymore emotions to show. I was done and ready to go home.”

Only when she signed for a 1-under 71 and allowed the shock to wear off from a final putt that rolled around the cup like a horseshoe, did she manage to see the big picture on a glorious afternoon at Mission Hills.

Her name was atop the leaderboard at 5-under 139 at the LPGA’s first major of the season, tied with Heather Young, who shot a 70.

This is the same position Ochoa was in at the halfway point last year, then tied with Paula Creamer, among the top-ranked players in women’s golf. Now she shares the lead with Young, whose only LPGA Tour victory came 2 1/2 years ago. In eight previous trips to Mission Hills, she has never cracked the top 10, and she arrived this week with expectations lower than ever.

That won’t make it any easier for Ochoa.

One shot behind was Maria Hjorth and Mi Hyun Kim, who each shot 70 with vastly different games. Hjorth is among the biggest hitters in women’s golf, Kim among the shortest, and having knee surgery over the winter hasn’t made Kim any longer.

And it was impossible not to notice Annika Sorenstam, a three-time winner at this major, lurking two shots behind despite playing the back nine with a stomach ailment so severe that she doubled over while speaking to reporters after her round of 70, making her 16-of-16 in rounds under par this year.

But for all the frustration, there was a sense of calm about Ochoa.

“It was a good day. I can’t complain,” Ochoa said. “I did my best, there were a few putts out there that hurt me, but that’s the way it is. It’s a major championship. It’s playing tough. I’m in a good position, where I like to be starting the weekend.”

She had reason to expect much more.

The No. 1 player quickly tied for the lead when she two-putted for birdie on the par-5 second. It looked as though she was getting ready to pull away from the field in a hurry until missing those short birdies on the fifth and sixth holes.

But she opened her back nine with consecutive birdies, and when Sorenstam three-putted for bogey ahead of her on No. 12, Ochoa found herself three shots clear.

She told her caddie, Dave Brooker, to enjoy a beautiful day and ride the momentum.

“But it didn’t happen. We couldn’t do it,” Ochoa said. “Just the last few holes are really tough.”

Ochoa made them tougher by hitting an 8-iron into a tree and across the fairway at No. 12 for a bogey, and leaning too far into a 7-iron on the 15th, causing it to fade badly to the right and into a bunker, leading to another bogey.

Hee-Won Han shot a 69 and joined Sorenstam at 3-under 141. The group at 142 included Karen Stupples, who fell from the first-round lead with a 75, and Se Ri Pak (70), inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame last year and now needing this major to become only the fifth woman to complete the career Grand Slam.

Only 15 players remained under par, and the cut fell at 5-over 149.

Young is looking for her first major, and didn’t expect to have a chance this week. She has been in a self-described funk for the last year and showed up in the desert with hardly any expectations. And she certainly had no reason to believe she would be tied for the lead after a three-putt bogey on No. 11, followed by a double bogey from the rough and sand on No. 12.

“I got off to a rough start today, and I just tried to keep my mood up,” she said. “And it served me well.”

She birdied three of four holes around the turn, and made her fifth and final birdie with a 25-foot putt on No. 7. She didn’t realize she was tied for the lead until walking off the ninth green and signing for a 70, and the only expectations she has are of Ochoa, whom she will play with in the final group.

“Loud. I expect it to be loud,” Young said. “She’s playing great. She’s playing phenomenal golf. So I expect her to have a lot of fans. I expect her to play well. And I expect her to out-drive me on every hole.”

Ochoa has far different expectations – make more putts.

“Overall, it was a great round,” she said. “I probably missed a lot of putts that I should have made, but I think I prefer making those on the weekend than today. And I’m feeling good. The important thing is that I feel strong and really confident with my game.”

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