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Lorena Ochoa goes for fifth straight title

Lorena Ochoa walked across the parking lot at Cedar Ridge, no one within 100 yards of her. She was alone again Wednesday morning in the clubhouse at breakfast, munching fruit and bacon as she sat by herself at a table for eight.

It was peculiar to see the LPGA Tour’s biggest star go virtually unnoticed, but those two scenes illustrated her place in the game.

No one is close to her at the moment.

Consider what Ochoa accomplished over four consecutive weeks.

She beat the strongest field in women’s golf by seven shots at the Safeway International outside Phoenix. She won by five shots at the Kraft Nabisco for her second straight major. Before 25,000 delirious fans in her native Mexico, she won by 11 to meet the performance criteria for the World Golf Hall of Fame. And with exhaustion setting in at the Ginn Open, she still won by three shots.

“I didn’t think anyone could get near Annika’s record,” Laura Davies said. “And I think Lorena can give it a good run.”

One of those records is five straight LPGA victories, which Annika Sorenstam shares with Nancy Lopez. Ochoa can tie the record this week at the SemGroup Championship in the Tulsa suburbs.

The field includes defending champion Mi Hyun Kim, U.S. Women’s Open champion Cristie Kerr, Juli Inkster and Paula Creamer, who lost in a playoff last week. Among those missing are Sorenstam and Suzann Pettersen, the two biggest threats to Ochoa’s reign.

Not that it matters.

“You play with her and she gets done, and she’s 5 under or 6 under,” Inkster said. “She just doesn’t throw shots away. She plays within herself. She could be one shot behind or six shots ahead, and you can’t tell the difference.”

Ochoa takes nothing for granted, even though her game is at a stage where she determines who wins.

She barely spoke English when she went to the University of Arizona, and Ochoa continues to expand her vocabulary, but she was stumped Wednesday when a reporter asked her if she was unbeatable.

“That’s a new word,” she said with eyebrows furrowed. “I never heard that.”

So the question was rephrased: Do you feel like no one can beat you?

She nodded her head, not in brash confidence, but to show that she finally understood the question.

“I believe I can beat everybody,” Ochoa said. “I mean, it’s never too good to get too comfortable and think nobody can beat you. It’s another thing to feel comfortable with your game. But there are so many good players and talented professionals that are close to me. Golf is a crazy game. Anything can happen any week.”

Only one thing has happened the last four times Ochoa has played—she wins.

And she wins big.

Ochoa has won five out of six times to start the 2008 season by a combined 37 shots. A year ago, she won eight times by 23 shots.

“I wouldn’t be playing this week if I didn’t think I could win it,” Davies said. “But as soon as Lorena’s name gets on the board, it becomes more difficult. It’s no different than Tiger’s name on the board on the men’s tour. You don’t want to see it there until later in the week. It happened with Annika. And when Webby (Karrie Webb) was at her very best, it was the same with her.

“But I don’t really know with Lorena,” Davies added, pausing to smile. “She’s so nice. She’s like a quiet assassin. She just takes you apart, and you smile, and you enjoy watching her do it.”

Key to Ochoa right now is not overdoing it. This is the first of three straight tournaments, and she is having to pay a fine for skipping the LPGA Corning Classic because of the LPGA Tour’s policy that players compete in every tournament at least once in four years. Ochoa simply doesn’t have the time, having to defend eight titles this year and the majors bunched together in the summer.

Ochoa spent a week at home, celebrating with family on Monday, spending Tuesday on the couch watching movies, then taking another day off when she didn’t feel like practicing. But she went back to the practice range Thursday, and showed up in Tulsa eager to play.

“I’m here because I believe I can win the tournament, and it’ll be great to do it,” she said.

Her streak is more similar to Lopez than Sorenstam.

Lopez won five straight tournaments in six weeks in 1978, her first full season on the LPGA Tour, and it brought enormous coverage to women’s golf. Sorenstam already was famous for playing on the PGA Tour at the Colonial when she ran off five straight victories over six months from 2004-05, including a three-month offseason.

The similarity to Sorenstam is in the sheer dominance, but not the style.

“Lorena is more artistic the way she plays,” Inkster said. “She’s very feel oriented. She has great imagination. Annika was drive down the fairway, hit the green. She was more robotic. You didn’t think anyone could be that good. And now here’s Lorena.”


May 1, 2008

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