Monday, March 31, 2008

The 19th Hole: Lorena Back on Track

Lorena Ochoa is back on track. She won her first start of the season on the LPGA Tour by blasting a star-studded field at the HSBC Women’s Champions event in Singapore. After watching Tiger Woods win his opening start by 8 shots at Torrey Pines, Ochoa kicked off her season by beating the field by eleven shots. She said that she sought to replicate Woods’ performance. She did just that.

Then, last week, as Woods was stagnating over the weekend at the CA Championship at Doral in Florida, the same thing was happening to Ochoa in her home nation. At the Mastercard Classic in Mexico City, Ochoa laid an egg early in the 54 hole event that prevented her comeback effort in the final two rounds. With a solid final round, though, she finished in the top 10.

Some questions were raised about the early prognostications of grandeur for the youngster’s season. Obviously, the perfect season was ruined after some began to wonder if Woods and Ochoa would track each other all season long. People wondered if Ochoa simply was just too nervous playing in her home nation to take an event there. No one could tell you if that theory is 100% fact or not. But, there was certainly an opportunity to see the health of Ochoa’s game this week.

Ochoa was the defending champion at the Safeway International at Superstition Mountain in Arizona. Ochoa played her short-lived college golf career at the University of Arizona. Her victory in this event last season nearly marked her official turn into the role of #1 player in the world. It would seem that if she could shake what happened just a few weeks ago, then perhaps Mexico City could just be cast off as hometown jitters.

It did not take long for Mexico City to become a quickly fading memory. Ochoa took Superstition Mountain to task and fired an opening round of 65. While that was not good enough for the first day lead – Angela Stanford fired a course record 62 on Thursday – it was a sign that Ochoa was ready to defend. Ochoa did not relent. Stanford did.

By the time the final round on Sunday had begun in earnest, it was clear that Ochoa was making a victory lap and playing a practice round to the clubhouse. Lorena torched the course, again, for a round of 66 and a final total of -22. She won by seven shots.

If there was any doubt about the direction that Ochoa would take in her second year of reign as the face of the LPGA Tour, it seems that can be dismissed now. Ochoa is two of three to start the season and she struggled to win tournaments early in the 2007 season. It was not until the streak following the Women’s British Open that Ochoa began to be known as the dominator she now is. She has resumed that role to start the 2008 season.

Obviously Ochoa was the favorite going into the first major of the LPGA Tour season, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, which begins on Thursday. Now it would seem silly to consider any other player as a favorite. Every other player of significance in the field that has won or could win this championship would have to be considered a dark horse. It just does not seem plausible that Ochoa can be had considered how she has played for most of the early part of this season.

Now the only business left for Ochoa is to win the event. Last season, Ochoa was a botched 17th hole away from likely gripping the trophy in her hands. Instead, it is Morgan Pressel that defends the title as the youngest major winner in LPGA Tour history. Do not think that Ochoa has forgotten what happened last season at Mission Hills. Also, do not think that Ochoa would not love to replicate the margin of her two victories this season. Ochoa is not only looking to correct a wrong, but she is looking to make everyone forget it ever happened in the first place.

Given how she has played of late, would you bet against that?


Andy Brown said...

Lorena Ochoa looks completely set to dominate the tour again this season. If anything I have a feeling, at the end of the season, the Golfer of the year might be a toss up between Tiger and Lorena and I would not be one bit surprised if Lorena Ochoa manages to trump Tiger Woods to the title. Just looking at the margin of the victory you get a feeling she is destined for something really big on the tour this year. Really big doesn’t necessarily have to be a perfect season. This is golf, even a couple of victories in a season is a big deal for most players. I would be willing to stick my neck out and say Lorena might win 10 or more titles this year and that in itself would be phenomenal.

A lot was said at the start of the year that Ochoa will face stiff competition from Annika Sorenstam who has regained full fitness this season but on the evidence of what we have seen so far, Ochoa is in a league of her own. She might be well on her away to a number of records this season.

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