SUPERSTITION MOUNTAIN, Ariz.(AP) Lorena Ochoa has come a long way since that awful afternoon two years ago.
So she’s ignoring any demons lingering at Superstition Mountain and seems well on her way to her 10th LPGA Tour victory and first of the year.
The tour’s reigning player of the year shot a 3-under 69 on Saturday to take a four-stroke lead into the final round of the Safeway International.
Ochoa, who finished off a second-round 64 on Saturday morning, was at 14-under 202 total on the Prospector Course at Supersitition Mountain Golf and Country Club.
Norway’s Suzann Pettersen (69) and South Korea’s Jeong Jang (68) were second at 10-under 206. Shi Hyun Ahn (68) was 8 under, six behind the leader. Annika Sorenstam (69) was in a group of four at 6 under.
Two years ago, Ochoa had one of her most heart-wrenching days in golf, blowing a four-shot lead with three holes to play, then losing in a playoff to Sorenstam. Since then, though, the 25-year-old Mexican has matured into a player so talented she’s challenging Sorenstam’s long hold on supremacy on the tour.
“I don’t even remember what happened in 2005,” Ochoa said. “You made a mistake and just put it in the trash. You’ve got to keep moving. … I think I’m just more in control of my emotions, the adrenaline, the pressure.”
Ochoa won six tournaments last year to end Sorenstam’s five-year run as player of the year.
“I’m really thankful. I’m really happy,” Ochoa said. “Last year was a great season. I learned so much that year. It made me a better player and a stronger player.”
Overall, Ochoa played 22 holes Saturday, the first four to finish her weather-disrupted second round. She birdied two of those holes, then two of the first four of her third round to reach 13 under.
After that, as the sky cleared, she ran off a string of 13 pars before a near-eagle on the 18th. She hit a 3-wood some 240 yards onto the green, then just missed a 23-foot putt for eagle, tapping it in for a birdie to end a day she said began at 4:45 a.m.
Ochoa’s strong finish early Saturday completed a second round of 8-under 64, giving her a three-shot lead over Catriana Matthew entering the third round. Matthew faded to a 2-over 72 and was in the group with Sorenstam at 6 under.
Ochoa’s lead reached six shots at one point on the 6,620-yard course – in the shadow of the rugged, barren Superstition Mountains about 50 miles east of Phoenix.
Pettersen, never a winner on the tour, had an erratic round that featured eight birdies and five bogeys. After 16 holes, she was within two shots of Ochoa, but bogeyed the 17th, then settled for par on No. 18.
Although she was in the same group as Ochoa, Pettersen said she never was concerned about how close she was to the leader.
“I mean, I had eight birdies. I had every chance in the world to close the gap. I didn’t really think of it,” she said. “I hadn’t watched any leaderboard until 18, so I had no clue what was going on.”
Jang birdied the final two holes for her 68.
Like Sorenstam, Ochoa was a standout at the University of Arizona. She also appreciates the strong following she has in the state because of her Mexican roots.
“This is a special place for me,” she said. “I want to get this trophy, not for me, but for the grounds crew and for the Mexicans that are out here watching me play. Tomorrow, I have my coach at the university coming, the golf team, family, my roommate. They support me the whole year and they’re very important in my life.”
A victory also would be a good warmup heading into next week’s Kraft Nabisco Championship, the year’s first major.
“I think this is a great preparation for the Nabisco,” Ochoa said. “The greens are in great shape, really fast. The rough is getting higher, the narrow fairways. It’s going to make me feel more comfortable next week, knowing my golf is in good shape.”