Ochoa seeks oasis after desert choke

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RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. - Lorena Ochoa finds inspiration just about everywhere she turns in the California desert.

In her fifth year on the LPGA Tour, Lorena Ochoa of Mexico still is seeking her first major  victory entering this week's Kraft Nabisco Championship.  Associated Press
Associated Press
In her fifth year on the LPGA Tour, Lorena Ochoa of Mexico still is seeking her first major victory entering this week's Kraft Nabisco Championship.

She never came closer to winning a major than one year ago in the Kraft Nabisco Championship. The Mexican star tied an LPGA major record with 62 in the opening round, only to carelessly throw away shots over the weekend. And despite a birdie-par-eagle finish to force a playoff, she left Mission Hills empty after losing to Karrie Webb.

"I didn't like the feeling of losing, kind of giving the tournament away after a great first round," she said.

But the Coachella Valley is filled with positive vibes, too, for it was only five months ago at Bighorn that Ochoa produced perhaps her most significant victory to date.

She trailed Annika Sorenstam by three shots going into the final round of the Samsung World Championship on a course where Sorenstam had never lost and was going after a record sixth victory. Despite such daunting odds, the fearless Ochoa fired at flags and closed with 7-under-par 65 to win by two.

It sent Ochoa on her way to winning LPGA Player of theYear and the money title, which had belonged to Sorenstam the past five years. And it allowed her to truly believe that being No. 1 in the world was only a matter of time.

Ochoa can move to No. 1 in the women's world ranking and fill the only hole in her credentials with a victory in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, which starts today at Mission Hills.

There is little to suggest she is not the favorite.

She is coming off a six-victory season that allowed her to sweep all the major awards. And she is coming off a victory last week against a strong field outside Phoenix, where she birdied four of the last five holes.

"I would say Lorena is playing very, very well," Sorenstam said. "Of course, I'm looking at the rankings the LPGA official money list. And so far, and right now, she's playing some superb golf. So I'm not surprised that the gap is smaller and smaller."

The Kraft Nabisco is played on the same course every year, and the 101 players make it the smallest field among LPGA majors. It does not included Wie, who is recovering from a wrist injury.

In her fifth year on tour, about the only thing the 25-year-old Ochoa has not achieved is winning a major.

Her first decent chance came two years at Cherry Hills, a grueling test for the 2005 U.S. Women's Open. Ochoa was among the early starters and was poised to post a score of 3 over par - the winning score that day - until she hooked her tee shot on the 18th hole into the water and stumbled to a quadruple bogey.

Then came last year.

After opening with 62, Ochoa led by at least three shots the rest of the week until her lead slipped away, first to Hawaii teenager Michelle Wie, then to Webb, who holed a pitching wedge from 116 yards on the final hole for eagle.

Webb won on the first extra hole.


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