Ochoa opens defense of Kraft Nabisco title

Ochoa opens defense of Kraft Nabisco title

Lorena Ochoa won her first Kraft Nabisco title last year.
Chris Carlson/AP

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) — As remarkable as her victory was in the Kraft Nabisco Championship last year, Lorena Ochoa's celebration was even more memorable.

It was nothing short of a fiesta.

Having finally won the major that had given her fits, Ochoa set the silver trophy on a table, joined hands with her parents and sister-in-law, and sprinted to the edge of the lake surrounding the 18th green at Mission Hills. She raised both arms as she plunged into the water.

Her caddie, swing coach and other family members joined her. Before long, two dozen friends and family members were bobbing in the water to the rhythm of a mariachi band.

Ochoa's lasting memory? "Having so many Mexicans in the lake."

"It was natural. It was something that happened because we were there for so many years, same friends and relatives, and we all wanted to be in the lake," Ochoa said.

Ochoa begins defense of her title on Thursday in the first major of the year on the LPGA Tour, looking for another visit to the lake Sunday.

The Mexican star is so popular that last year's splashfest included a handful of people she didn't know, "you know, friends of friends." She met them at a party the night before and they promised to jump, too, if she won.

"And they keep their promise, so it was nice," she said.

Last year at Mission Hills, Ochoa won her second straight major to run her season-opening victory streak to three. She finished with a 5-under 67 to beat Suzann Pettersen and Annika Sorenstam by five strokes.

"I just needed to be patient," she said. "And sometimes the more you want it, the more you try, it gets harder. I loved winning last year. I think it was the right time for me. You know, I was prepared and I was mentally ready and the way it happened Sunday, it was amazing.

"Maybe it raises our expectations for it, and I'm going to be there just 100 percent, trying to do my best. I think being consistent is very important. And I would love to get myself a chance to win on Sunday."

Ochoa opened her season with a victory in the Honda LPGA Thailand, her 25th LPGA Tour title. She followed with a sixth-place tie in Singapore in the HSBC Women's Champions, tied for second in the MasterCard Classic in Mexico and tied for 15th last week in Phoenix.

Ochoa likes playing Mission Hills.

"I think it's all about the atmosphere and how do you feel being there," she said. "I played that tournament for so many years, even when I was an amateur, and all I have is good memories there. And when I dream, I dream in the Nabisco dream – same course, every hole I memorize the driver, you know, the shape of the fairways. For sure it's something that I love and I'm going to try to bring all those memories back."

Among those chasing Ochoa will be Michelle Wie, now a card-carrying member of the LPGA Tour.

Wie is back at Mission Hills for the first time since 2006, when she had a chance to win the Kraft Nabisco with a 25-foot eagle chip from just off the 18th green. It went 10 feet by the hole, and she missed the birdie putt to get into a playoff.

The 19-year-old Stanford sophomore, still seeking her first tour victory, is making her third start of the year. She finished second in the season-opening SBS Open in Hawaii and tied for 57th last week in Phoenix, shooting 73-76-74-73.

Wie said she's trying to leave her struggles in the past.

"I guess I just take a different outlook on my life," she said. "Just trying to stop worrying about stuff that I can't handle. I've stopped worrying about things that I can't have any control over. I'm just going to try my hardest in everything that I do and how I play, and if it works out, then great. If it doesn't, then I know I've tried my hardest, and I think it's a lot less stress on me. It's a lot less pressure.

"I still want to play really great. I want to win, but I can't really control that. All I can control is how I play and how hard I try. So I'm just focusing on that, so it's a lot easier for me."

Part of looking ahead even means planning a jump into the lake should she win.

"I hopefully want it to be a graceful jump, but it'll probably turn out to be a really ugly one, unfortunately, but I don't really care as long as I get to," she said.

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