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Lorena Ochoa in sight of record $3m season

Lorena Ochoa needed a quick translation: One of her colleagues on the LPGA Tour had described the star from Mexico as mystical.

"Thank you," Ochoa said Wednesday with a grin. "It's a good thing, right?"

A compliment, indeed, for the world's No. 1 ranked player, who this week could become the first woman ever to earn $3 million in a single season. She needs to finish sixth or better in the Longs Drugs Challenge to do it, entering the first round Thursday with $2,966,454 in prize money in 2007.

Reaching that milestone would help Ochoa forget another mark she had been shooting for before falling short in her previous tournament.

Ochoa was trying to become the first with four straight tour victories since Annika Sorenstam did it in 2004-05. Sorenstam and Nancy Lopez hold the record with five wins in a row in events in which they played.

Not that Ochoa is dwelling on that close finish behind Maria Hjorth and Stacy Prammanasudh in the inaugural Navistar LPGA Classic last weekend in Prattville, Ala.

"I do get really mad and disappointed, but I just kind of move on and leave things behind and put them in the trash and I keep going," Ochoa said after completing her round of the Pro-Am at Blackhawk Country Club. "I think that's something that really helps me."

Defending champion Karrie Webb is expected to challenge Ochoa among a talented 108-player field that is missing 2006 runner-up Sorenstam. Webb beat Sorenstam by one stroke in this event last year, finishing 15 under par.

"I think we've got as tough a competitor in Lorena," Webb said. "She's playing similar, consistently very good golf as Annika has done in the past. So I wouldn't be surprised to see Lorena's name up on the leaderboard this week."

The tournament moved last year from the Sacramento area to the picturesque and hilly Blackhawk Country Club in this well-to-do San Francisco suburb.

Webb, the Hall of Famer from Australia, is winless this year and she attributes her problems primarily to her inconsistent putting. She is encouraged by her fifth-place finish last week in Alabama.

"Well, like anything, confidence, every week you play good and your confidence just continues to grow," Webb said. "When you're playing that well, you don't notice the bad breaks you get. And if you do get a bad break generally it doesn't seem like it costs you anything."

Local favorites Juli Inkster, Natalie Gulbis and Paula Creamer also will take part in the event featuring the entire top-10 in the LPGA player of the year race.

Typically a crowd favorite, Creamer came off the 18th green and chatted with fans in the gallery, signed autographs and posed for pictures. She is fresh off a victory with the U.S. Solheim Cup team, and thrilled to be back home to the Bay Area.

"It's so nice to be able to come here and play in front of my friends and my family, come out and play this golf course," Creamer said. "It's kind of a crazy week with everything going on, but I love to be back."

Ochoa won the Women's British Open, Canadian Women's Open and Safeway Classic before taking an extended break that ended with her tournament last weekend. This tournament, she wants to do a better job of gauging the speed of greens and improve her long putting.

Such attention to detail, she said, is what has helped her become the top player in the world in about the time she expected it to happen after her rookie year in 2003. Now, it's all about doing the things to keep that spot.

"I think it's all about breaking records and making history," Ochoa said. "I don't really pay too much attention to the money. I have no control over that. I just make sure I do my process and I just practice and whatever is in my control. Get in my routine and getting a good feel of the golf course and having a strategy to play the tournament.

"The money is just a plus, and it counts and I'm very thankful."


October 4, 2007

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