Unstoppable as ever, Lorena Ochoa collects another major

April 7, 2008

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) — From the time she woke up, Lorena Ochoa could not take her mind off the lake surrounding the 18th green at Mission Hills and how refreshing it would feel to dive in after winning the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

But when victory was as certain as sunshine in the California desert, she couldn’t look.

Ochoa delivered her knockout punch Sunday with back-to-back birdies at the turn to build a five-shot lead, and on her way to the 10th tee, she passed by an opening in the grandstands that offered the perfect view of the 18th.

She kept her head down, eyes on each step.

Mexican flags were waving all around her, cheers in Spanish ringing in her ears, the lake to her right.

“I didn’t even look at the lake on No. 18,” she said. “I was more like, ‘OK, keep your head down.’ And the rest, it was just good.”

It was practically perfect.

Ochoa finished off her round with eight pars, closing with a 5-under 67 to become the only player in the final round not to make a bogey, the only player in the field to break par all four days at Mission Hills.

The result was a five-shot victory, and her second consecutive major.

She has won the past two majors by a total of nine shots. Ochoa has won three of four tournaments this year by a combined 23 shots.

There is no stopping her right now.

Certainly not on the golf course, where even the majors that once gave her fits now look easy. And not when it comes time to celebrate, which she did with gusto and a lot of amigos.

First came the mariachi band playing the famous Mexican tune, “Canta y no llores,” roughly translated to “Sing and don’t cry.” Then, she clasped hands with her parents and sprinted to the edge of the water, jumping with joy, both hands raised. Her brother, Alejandro, swing coach Rafael Alarcon and caddie Dave Brooker leapt from the bridge.

Within minutes, there were two dozen people in the water, family and friends, who have been watching Ochoa compete at Mission Hills since she was an amateur, dreaming of this day. They were bobbing in the water to the rhythm of the mariachi band, celebrating a major that Ochoa now makes look routine.

“I thought for a moment, ‘Maybe I should try to do something funny, like a flip or something,”’ Ochoa said. “No, no, no. Too dangerous. So I did the regular jump. You always worry about the jump, but once you win, I don’t care.”

The ripple effect is frightening.

Ochoa became the first player since Annika Sorenstam in 2005 to win two straight majors, having captured her first major in the Women’s British Open at St. Andrews last summer by four shots. Since winning that first major, she is 8-for-13 on the LPGA Tour.

Tiger Woods also has won eight of his past 13 events, including a major.

Woods was at Augusta National on Sunday to get ready for the Masters, where he is an overwhelming favorite as he tries to win the calendar Grand Slam. Ochoa nailed down the first leg, and already is being asked whether she can win all four in one year.

“Yes,” she said, and no elaboration was necessary.

“Nothing can stop her,” said Se Ri Pak, who became the youngest player inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame last year, a record that certainly will be broken by the 26-year-old Ochoa.

Sorenstam and Suzann Pettersen each closed with a 68 and tied for second, although they were never close.

Ochoa, who finished at 11-under 277, never trailed under the blazing desert sun, and was threatened only briefly. She answered with two straight birdies to make the turn in 32, and the rout was on.

“It was commanding golf in both,” Brooker said of the past two majors. “She’s very polished. Every win that goes along, she gains even more momentum. If she had been putting better the first three days, this might have been a runaway even earlier.”

This has always been somewhat of a home game for Ochoa, who has been coming to the Nabisco since she was an amateur. She spent Wednesday morning meeting with the maintenance staff at Mission Hills, helping them cook breakfast and thanking them for their hard work in preparing the course.

“They are good people that work really hard,” she said of the 30-minute visit. “I always joke a little bit about soccer because they don’t like my team. We always get a good laugh. I helped them make scrambled eggs.”

The best player in women’s golf does double duty as a short-order chef?

“Well, they were making scrambled eggs, and they wanted me to help with it,” she said. “It was easy.”

Everything seems that way now. Ochoa is about 10 yards longer than she was last year, when she became the first $4 million woman in golf and won seven times to sweep the major awards for the second straight season.

The margin of victory is what makes everyone nervous.

“Even when I was on a roll, I don’t think I ever dominated like this,” said Karrie Webb, who won five out of eight majors from 1999 through 2001. “People don’t understand how hard it is to stay on top of your game like that. I did it for a few years. Annika did it for five. Tiger has done it for 12.”

Sorenstam, who battled a stomach virus on the weekend, tried to give Ochoa a run but could never get closer than three shots. Even at full strength, it’s doubtful she could have had enough to stop Ochoa.

“I could be wrong, but I think the goal for her is just to take one tournament at a time and try to win each one of them,” Sorenstam said. “And it turns out to be the last two majors. I’m sure it won’t be the last, either.”