Ochoa, Sorenstam headline field in Singapore

SINGAPORE (AP) — Lorena Ochoa will tee up against Annika Sorenstam for the first time this season.

Ochoa said she’s geared up to keep the top ranking, which she took from Sorenstam last year, when she opens play Thursday in the inaugural HSBC Women’s Champions.

Sorenstam already has a title under her belt, while Ochoa will make her season debut in Singapore. Sorenstam won her 70th LPGA Tour title at the SBS Open this month in Hawaii, ending a 17-month title drought.

“I was at the beach while Annika was winning,” Ochoa said Tuesday. “I didn’t play the first two tournaments because I needed to spend a little more time at home and get prepared.

“I feel ready. I think this is going to be a great year for all of us. We all want to finish at the first place, so let’s start,” she said.

With a $2 million purse and $300,000 top prize, the HSBC Women’s Champions will be the richest women’s golf event in Asia.

Ochoa will have plenty of competition at the Tanah Merah Country Club, most notably Sorenstam, whose recent victory vaulted her two spots to No. 2 in the world.

Sorenstam is pleased with her start so far. She came off an injury-shortened season in 2007, where the Swedish star was winless on the LPGA Tour for the first time since her rookie season in 1994.

“There’s definitely a spring in (my) step,” Sorenstam said. “I feel good again, I’m working out hard and I’m playing and practicing as hard as I can, so I feel healthy and I’m excited about the year.”

Sorenstam acknowledged that it would not be easy surpassing Ochoa, who had an impressive eight wins in 2007. Sorenstam was limited to 13 events last year because of neck and back injuries.

She wouldn’t mind regaining the top ranking.

“Of course I would love to do that,” Sorenstam said. “I do think it’s going to take a lot for me this year to do that … I have a lot of catching up to do, so I’m just going to take one step at a time.”

Paula Creamer, the winner of the Fields Open last weekend, is among a field that features 18 of the top 20 players in the world. Others include Cristie Kerr, Morgan Pressel and Karrie Webb.

Third-ranked Suzann Pettersen had a breakout season last year with five wins, including the LPGA Championship.

“Last year it was my first healthy year back from being injured a couple of times, and that was a big part of kind of having a consistency and being able to play every week without any aches and pains,” Pettersen said.

“Golf is a funny game. You just have to try to make it as easy as possible — I mean it’s from the beginning a very difficult game, so the easiest you can do it, the better.”

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