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Lorena Ochoa aims at being No.1

Lorena Ochoa doesn't hide her desire to succeed Nancy Lopez, her childhood idol, at the pinnacle of women's golf.

But first she'll have to get past Annika Sorenstam.

"My goal is to be the No. 1 player in the world," the 24-year-old Mexican said ahead of her title defense this week in the Rochester LPGA. "It's time to have another player up there."

For the last 11 years, the LPGA Tour money list has been topped by either Sweden's Sorenstam or Australia's Karrie Webb. Ochoa, who has two victories and five second-place finishes this year, leads the money list with $1,155,454 -- almost $35,000 more than the resurgent Webb.

"What's happening right now doesn't really matter," Ochoa said. "What is important is who finishes in that position in November."

Growing up in Guadalajara, where she began playing golf at 5, Ochoa remembers Lopez as her only real sporting idol.

"I didn't know much about what was going on in the world, but I always heard about Nancy Lopez," she said.

Lopez, a Mexican-American from New Mexico, was already a star with 23 of her 48 career victories under her belt by the time Ochoa was born in 1981. Lopez quit playing tournaments full time at the end of her 25th season in 2002, but they see each other a few times a year.

"She's been a great adviser for Lorena, giving tips, telling her how to manage herself both on and off the course," said Alejandro Ochoa, her brother and manager. "It's somebody that Lorena really likes and really pays attention to."

Ochoa, who gained prominence with two wins in 2004, birdied six of the last seven holes to beat Paula Creamer by four strokes at the Rochester LPGA last June. Ochoa will tee it up on Thursday in the $1.8 million tournament sponsored by Wegmans at the tree-lined Locust Hill course.

In her fourth year on tour, Ochoa has had her share of disappointments. But her reputation for final-round jitters was offset by her come-from-behind victories in Rochester and at last month's Sybase Classic, where she closed with a 5-under 66 to vault ahead of Sorenstam and seven other players.

"As a golfer, you can't always have high expectations, you're going to always have room to improve," Ochoa said. "The way you learn is making those mistakes. I'm glad they already happened."

What Ochoa has never lacked is consistency -- her ninth-place tie at the McDonald's LPGA Championship on June 11 was her ninth top-10 finish in 12 outings. That included a streak of four runner-up spots and victories in the Takefuji Classic and the Sybase Classic.

Working with weights, adapting her swing and using better equipment, Ochoa is 10 yards longer off the tee this year. Her average drive of 272.9 yards makes her the sixth-longest hitter on tour.

Off the course, she's trying yoga for the first time. But what she loves best is relaxing at home in Mexico.

"My priorities in life are God and family and friends," she said. "Nothing is worth it if you don't share it with the people you love."

June 22, 2006


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