BROKEN ARROW, Okla.(AP) Lorena Ochoa felt helpless as too many shots ballooned into relentless gusts that reached 36 mph Thursday, sending her to only her second round over par this year.
Stranger still was listening to her describe a 2-over 73 at the SemGroup Championship.
“I managed to finish with a good score,” she said.
On a wind-blown day that yielded only four rounds under par, Ochoa took some measure of satisfaction by not letting the leaders get too far away in her quest for a record-tying fifth consecutive victory on the LPGA Tour.
Hee Young Park held it together in Oklahoma’s notorious wind with a 2-under 69 on a tough day for everyone at Cedar Ridge.
Two other subpar rounds came from Ochoa’s group – Paula Creamer and defending champion Mi Hyun Kim, each with 70 in rounds that looked nothing alike. One of the shorter hitters on tour, Kim hit 23 metal clubs, almost as often as she used her putter (30).
Ji Young Oh also had a 70, the only subpar round from the morning batch, when the wind was just as strong.
Ochoa couldn’t join them.
On a day that Time magazine listed her as one of the 100 influential people in the world, Ochoa had no influence on the wind. And it didn’t help that her hands were too quick, sending her shots high into the air where the gusts knocked her ball every which way.
With a sand wedge, she went 80 feet over the flag and over the green. A tee shot drifted well left of a par 3 and down the slope. A drive went so far left that she was nearly in the next fairway.
Ochoa atoned for those mistakes with a 5-wood from 223 yards to 2 feet for eagle on her 10th hole, the par-5 first, and this was one day she had few complaints about a round over par.
“I’m OK,” she said. “I’m not too far from the leaders.”
Indeed, she was only four shots behind. The only tournament she failed to win this year, the MasterCard Classic in Mexico, Ochoa opened with a 76 and tied for seventh. But she was nine shots behind after the first round, and that tournament was only 54 holes.
“It’s just a start,” she said. “We have three days to go.”
And the 26-year-old Mexican was satisfied walking off her final hole with a par, looking up at a leaderboard that still included her name, even if she had to wait for the screen to scroll down a few pages.
“I think I was tied for 15th. That’s fine,” she said. “Now it’s time to catch up.”
Lost in the hoopla of Ochoa trying to join Nancy Lopez and Annika Sorenstam with five straight victories was an even-par 70 by Vicky Hurst, the 17-year-old from Melbourne, Fla., who last week won on the Duramed Futures Tour.
Hurst, who received a sponsor’s exemption, made five birdies against five bogeys, with a caddie she hired only Thursday morning, sparing her mother from having to lug around her clubs.
“I’ll take that every day,” said Hurst, who graduates high school in two weeks.
The group at 1-over 72 included U.S. Women’s Open champion Cristie Kerr, despite three bogeys over the final five holes, and seven-time major champion Juli Inkster, the runner-up last year at Cedar Ridge.
Beth Bader was tied for the lead until closing with three straight bogeys for a 72.
Those scores felt much lower on such a blustery day, with flags crackling in the wind before sunrise, relentless throughout the day. The scoring average was 76.8, compared with 73.5 a year ago when 21 players broke par in the first round.
This is the eighth year of the LPGA Tour event in Tulsa, and along with the PGA Championship last year and the 2001 U.S. Open, tournaments have managed to escape the wind so infamous in these parts.
But there was no hiding Thursday, and there is not expected to be much relief the rest of the way.
Twenty-nine players failed to break 80, a list that included Morgan Pressel (80) and Louise Friberg (81), the only other player this year to win a tournament Ochoa entered.
“You can’t quit,” Creamer said. “You have to be out there, mentally prepared, and be able to hit all kinds of golf shots.”
Creamer did just that on the par-3 sixth, with a 7-iron that stopped 6 feet behind the hole for a birdie that momentarily tied her for the lead. She did not recall the yardage, and it really didn’t matter. It was a feel shot, and it was that kind of day for everyone.
Creamer finished with consecutive bogeys, a three-putt from 80 feet and a tough chip with her feet in the bunker, and ball at her knees. It was a bitter way to end the round, but she knew it could have been worse. Creamer made three putts from outside 10 feet on her front nine, two for par and one for bogey.
“Going out there, I said if I shot even par I would be in a good spot,” she said. “And I finished 1 under.”
That put her one off the lead, and three shots ahead of Ochoa, who didn’t seem the least bit bothered. Ochoa was quick with her hands, making it difficult to control her trajectory, and that’s never good in these conditions.
“I’m going to work on that,” she said. “I should be in good shape tomorrow. Being three or four shots out of the lead, you’re in good shape. This is an up-and-down week, a lot of movement (on the leaderboard). I’m plus 2, and I still have three more rounds to go.”
Divots: Stacy Prammansudh had to withdraw with the flu, a big blow to an LPGA Tour winner who went to college at Tulsa and lives in Broken Arrow. … Ochoa has failed to break par her last three rounds at Cedar Ridge.