MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (AP) — Annika Sorenstam’s competitive fire had her hoping to face the world’s best one last time at her LPGA event.
Sorenstam’s compassionate heart understood why that wouldn’t happen.
Sorenstam learned during Wednesday morning’s pro-am that Lorena Ochoa, ranked No. 1 in the world, dropped out of the Ginn Tribute to be with an uncle who’d fallen ill.
“Sorry to hear that, but the family comes first,” Sorenstam said. “We all have our priorities in life.”
One of Sorenstam’s had been to challenge for the title at RiverTowne Country Club, where the tournament bears her name, in her last year of competitive golf.
Sorenstam announced her retirement from the LPGA Tour earlier this month.
A year ago, this event was Sorenstam’s first after nearly two months sidelined with neck and back problems. She graciously handled her duties as host in the first-time tournament, but was never a factor on the leaderboard. She tied for 36th after shooting 74-76 on the weekend.
Now, Sorenstam’s back to her winning ways, collecting three LPGA victories so far this season.
Missing the world’s top-ranked player doesn’t change how Sorenstam views her chances here when the tournament starts Thursday.
“I think I can win any week so I don’t look at it that way,” she said. “We’re going to miss Lorena for many reasons.”
Since Sorenstam’s decision, every LPGA event the two are in is billed as a head-to-head showdown between current No. 1 Ochoa and the woman she passed for the top spot.
Ochoa told tournament officials about her departure late Tuesday.
“I am very sorry to have to withdraw,” Ochoa said. “I need to be with my uncle and my family right now.”
Instead of preparing to face Ochoa, Sorenstam and other competitors sent their prayers and best wishes.
“My heart goes out to her and her family, and hopefully, everything is 100 percent OK,” Paula Creamer said.
Ochoa has won six of 13 LPGA tournaments this season.
Ochoa “is a tremendous ambassador for our game, and we will miss her this week,” Sorenstam said. “That being said, family comes first and I know she has a very close family. I respect and support her decision and wish them the best.”
Ochoa looked like she would win the inaugural Ginn Tribute last year, holding a two-stroke lead against Nicole Castrale with two holes to play.
But Castrale caught Ochoa on the 71st hole to force a playoff, then watched the world’s best player drive into a marsh on the first playoff hole. That helped Castrale earn her first LPGA victory.
Leta Lindley, who won the LPGA Corning Classic last week, said Ochoa will be missed.
“But I guess that leaves a little bit more money for everybody else, the way she’s been playing this year,” Lindley said.
Ochoa leads the money list with more than $1.83 million earned in nine events this season.
It’s the second high-profile withdrawal in as many years for the Ginn Tribute.
Michelle Wie left after playing 16 holes of her opening round, citing a wrist injury. She was playing poorly at 14-over and two shots shy of the LPGA’s “88” rule when she stepped away.
She would have been banned from tour exemptions until the following season for shooting an 88 or higher.
Wie was not offered, nor did she seek, an exemption to play in the tournament this year.
Last year, Sorenstam wanted to test her rehabbed neck and shoulder here. Sorenstam’s much happier hosting with her game in championship shape.
“I’m enjoying the week and I’d love it a lot if I was here on Sunday and picked up the check,” Sorenstam said.