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Lorena Ochoa's rise feature of 2007 LPGA season

About this time last year we asked ourselves: "Is Annika Sorenstam still the best women's golfer in the world?"

Our answer: "Well, yeah. Of course she is."

As sure as we were about that statement last December, we are even surer now that it's no longer true. If the 2007 LPGA Tour season taught us anything, it's that an overwhelmingly dominant stretch of golf can turn the tables quickly in terms of a conversation about who's better than whom, washing away the gray areas on either side of the argument.

Lorena Ochoa is the best women's golfer in the world. We know that without hesitation. Checking back in a year or so, you will probably find that's still the case.

But you never know. Twelve months is a long time.


Ochoa won six times in 2006, but Sorenstam was still the No. 1 player in the rankings at the end of the year and Ochoa had still not yet won a major championship. If the tables were turning then, they've flipped by now.

Maybe several times over.

Ochoa snatched the No. 1 ranking from Sorenstam early in the 2007 season, then vindicated it with an eight-win campaign that included her first major at the Ricoh Women's British Open.

On the way, the Mexican star became the first player in LPGA Tour history to pass the $3 million plateau in single-season earnings. When she won the ADT Championship in November, she broke through another ceiling: the $4 million barrier.

"It's all about breaking records," Ochoa acknowledged after that win, which netted her a $1 million check and put her at $4.3 million for the year. "It was not only about the money list but also winning eight tournaments this season. It's been amazing from the start to the end."

Now that she's won 14 times since April 2006 and vaulted herself into any conversation about the most dominant athletes in the world, how could Ochoa not be our Player of the Year?

TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR: Women's British Open

All due respect to the Solheim Cup, but it was a drag to watch. The Americans won for the seventh time, defeating the Europeans during a cold, wet and windy weekend in Sweden.

On the other hand, watching Ochoa win the Women's British Open was a joy. Not because we have any rooting interest, you understand, but because there isn't much in sports that beats watching a player in their absolute prime take absolute control of their position within their sport.

And that's what Ochoa did on the first weekend in August when she went wire- to-wire for her first major championship -- doing it, oh by the way, in the first-ever professional women's tournament hosted at St. Andrews.

"It's really hard to describe and I think it's not going to be easy to realize what just happened," Ochoa said that Sunday. "After I hit [my tee shot at the 18th] and put it in the middle of the fairway ... I was walking with my caddie just saying that, you know, we did it and it was a great feeling."

And a long time coming.


We defer to the LPGA Tour on this one, honoring the same player it did for her impressive debut. We do so because the LPGA Tour's system absolutely got it right. Not that it was tough.

Angela Park is a 19-year-old Brazilian who played in nearly every tournament she was eligible for in 2007, collecting an impressive eight top-10 finishes to place eighth on the money list with nearly $1 million in earnings.

She was a factor in three of the four major championships, tying for second place at the U.S. Women's Open and placing fifth at the McDonald's LPGA Championship while also tying for 26th at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Her only missed cut came at the Women's British Open, where she went 78-74 in the first two rounds. At the time, she was just 18 years old.


Suzann Pettersen: If not for Ochoa's stunning season, Pettersen would be your Player of the Year. Her dubious loss to Morgan Pressel at the first major of the season, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, was followed by her first five wins on the LPGA Tour. They included a victory at the second major of the season, the McDonald's LPGA Championship, and back-to-back titles in Asia near the end of the year. She finished a distant second to Ochoa on the money list.

Cristie Kerr: Kerr won only once in 2007, but that victory came at the U.S. Women's Open and marked her long-overdue first career major championship. She finished sixth on the money list with nearly $1.1 million in earnings.

Morgan Pressel: She finished ninth on the money list, a spot behind the rookie Park, but Pressel made her first career win a memorable one when she backed into the Kraft Nabisco title after Pettersen folded late in the final round on Sunday.

Natalie Gulbis: While Pettersen, Kerr and Pressel won their first majors, Gulbis claimed her first win of any kind. And it came at one of the top non- majors: the Evian Masters. She finished 12th on the money list, missing five cuts in 22 starts, but had five top 10s along the way. They included a runner-up to Ochoa at the season-ending ADT Championship.

Paula Creamer: Creamer won twice and finished third on the money list with almost $1.4 million. Her victories marked the first time she collected trophies since her rookie season in 2005.

Mi Hyun Kim: She had a season that was lost in the mix: fourth on the money list, 10 top-10s, seven top-fives, two runner-ups and a win at the SemGroup Championship. Along with Ochoa, Pettersen and Seon-Hwa Lee (fifth on the money list), Kim helped represent an international dominance on the LPGA Tour in 2007.


Annika Sorenstam: Personally, any year somebody becomes engaged to be married can't be considered a bad year. But Sorenstam, until recently the high watermark of women's athletics, had a bad year professionally. She finished an eye-rubbing 25th on the money list this season despite making the cut in 12 of her 13 starts. Battling back and neck problems along the way, she posted only two top-three finishes.

Pat Hurst: Last year, Hurst took Sorenstam to a Monday finish at the U.S. Women's Open. This year, she missed five cuts in 22 starts and never finished better than third. She tumbled to 35th in the world rankings after beginning the season ranked 11th.


December 30, 2007

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