CLIFTON, N.J. (AP) — When it comes to the LPGA Sybase Classic, nothing seems to upstage Lorena Ochoa.
A year ago, Annika Sorenstam announced her retirement on the eve of the $2 million tournament at the Upper Montclair Country Club.
No sweat. Ochoa offered Sorenstam her own little goodbye, taking command over the final two days to win the 72-hole event for the third straight year.
With the course reminding her of one she plays at home in Mexico, Ochoa said Tuesday she has a shot at winning a fourth straight year. That’s something she has never done since joining the LPGA Tour.
“I’ve never been in that situation, but like I said before, it’s more than pressure. It’s motivation,” Ochoa said in a conference call from Guadalajara. “I have the opportunity to do something special.
“So, I’m just going to enjoy it. I’m going to get there with a smile on my face. I know that if I play the way I played, I can be there on Sunday.”
While Sorenstam won’t be around to challenge Ochoa, the field for the May 14-17 event already includes Michelle Wie and 23-year-old Korean sensation Jiyai Shin, who currently leads the LPGA earnings.
Ochoa, who has replaced Sorenstam as the face of the LPGA, admits she misses the Swede. However, she believes the competition is not lacking.
“I think we are in a great place because there are so many good players, more Americans this year, which I think is good for the LPGA, for the media,” Ochoa said. “Michelle Wie is back and everybody likes that. Hopefully, she plays better in the next few tournaments. She’s struggled a bit the last couple of weeks.
“I don’t feel pressure at all. Like I said, I’m very motivated, I am at the top and I’m going to do whatever it takes to stay there.”
Staying on top at the Upper Montclair Country Club has not been hard for Ochoa. The tournament moved here two years ago from Wykagyl Country Club in the northern suburbs of New York City, and Ochoa has owned it.
“I feel like home,” she said. “I love the Northeast golf courses, just old, traditional with a lot of trees. I like the small greens, poa annua greens, the same type of greens that I play here in Guadalajara. It just makes me feel comfortable.”
Ochoa has played in five events this year, winning her first start in Thailand and posting three Top 10s. Her 70.16 scoring average is the best on the tour, and her earning of $430,205 is second to Shin’s $470,895. She is also second to Brittany Lincicome in the race for player of the year.
“I can see good things about my game,” said the 27-year-old, who has won 25 LPGA Tour events. “I’ve been practicing hard this season trying to make changes and make a stronger break with my left hand and change a little bit my putting stroke. I’m really excited to see that I’m going in the right direction.”
If there is a concern for Ochoa, it’s the economy. The LPGA tour lost a couple of events this season. There are only two events in April.
“We are looking to get a couple of new sponsors, but it’s not easy,” Ochoa said. “I think what we can do is just to really spend more time with our sponsors, trying to support as much as we can.
“I believe that the LPGA is very strong, and that we should be in good shape. We are working together and for sure spend more time with the sponsors, that’s one of our responsibilities and it’s going to help our tour.”
Ochoa plans to defend her title April 23-26 in the Corona Championship in Mexico. The week before the Sybase event, she intends to play in Michelob ULTRA Open at Kingsmill in Williamsburg, Va.