Ochoa wins again; gap with Annika grows

May 21, 2007

CLIFTON, N.J. (AP) — Lorena Ochoa only set her sights higher after validating her status as the No. 1 player in women’s golf by winning for the first time since supplanting Annika Sorenstam.

The 25-year-old Mexican superstar now wants to win a major or two, and soon.

Ochoa got back to the winner’s circle and defended a title Sunday, shooting a bogey-free 4-under 68 for a three-shot win over front-running Sarah Lee in the $1.4 million Sybase Classic, an event that turned into match play after the top two distanced themselves from the field the day before.

Ochoa, who took over as the No. 1 player last month, plans to skip this week’s Corning Classic and then play in the Ginn Tribute Hosted by Annika in preparation for the McDonald’s LPGA Championship, the tour’s second major this year.

“I am not going to put any extra pressure,” Ochoa said of a major. “I am going to try to enjoy and win as I always try to do. I think I am ready for a major. I think it’s something we all want to get and I think I am ready. Hopefully, it will happen this year, and not one time, a few times.”

If Ochoa plays the way she did at the Sybase Classic, winning any tournament is a possibility.

Her 18-under 270 total on the Upper Montclair Country Club course tied the best 72-hole score on a par-72 layout this year, matching the total she had in winning at the Safeway International in Arizona.

Lee, who was trying to become the fifth first-time winner on tour, was the only player who had a chance to beat Ochoa on Sunday. She had a two-shot lead at the start, but she missed six greens on the front nine and failed to convert six straight birdie chances on the back side en route to a 73.

“I just kept hanging in there and trying to strike to ball well, but I didn’t make any putts,” said Lee, who finished third at the Michelob Ultra Classic last week.

Se Ri Pak, who is now three events from making the Hall of Fame, finished third after a final-round 66. She was 10 shots behind Ochoa and a stroke ahead of Juli Inkster (69) and Brittany Lang (67).

“I really liked my round today because I didn’t make any bogeys and I gave myself a lot of birdie opportunities,” Ochoa said. “I played smart golf and those are the rounds you want to have on a Sunday.”

The victory was the 11th of Ochoa’s career. The $210,000 winner’s share pushed her earnings this year to $965,714 and to more than $7 million in four-plus years on tour.

It also was her first successful LPGA title defense. She won last year’s event at the Wykagyl Country Club in New Rochelle, N.Y., another traditional, treed-line course with small greens.

“It was a great day,” Ochoa said. “It feels good to get that first time since being named No. 1 and I am going home on Tuesday to celebrate with my family.”

This was one Ochoa wanted. Since becoming the No. 1 player, she failed to win in the three events, finishing second, fifth and 20th.

“You never know how it’s going to be and what is going to happen,” said Ochoa, who made four 5-footers for par on Sunday. “This week was a week I was just ready to do it.”

Lee, who led for the first three rounds and outplayed Ochoa in a head-to-head matchup on Saturday, had one birdie and two bogeys in squandering the lead.

Ochoa made up the two-shot deficit in the first five holes. Lee was unlucky to give one back at the second hole when her approach hit the pin and bounced into the fringe about 25 feet away. She missed a 7-foot par saving putt.

A short birdie putt on the par-5 fifth gave Ochoa a piece of the lead and then she put the pressure on the 28-year-old Lee with birdies on Nos. 8, 9 and 11. Ochoa made an 18-footer on the par-3 eighth, babied a 10-footer into the cup on No. 9 and two-putted for another on the par-5 11th.

Lee, whose chances of winning ended when she put her third shot into the water on No. 18, had makable birdie attempts on the 12th through the 17th, but her putts seemed to die and fall off just short of the holes, or she misread them.