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Golf Today > Tour Schedules > 2006 > LPGA > LPGA Takefuji Classic > Round 3


Lorena Ochoa gains wire to wire win

Lorena Ochoa was the center of jubilant bedlam on the 18th green, where relatives and friends wearing red shirts -- like hers -- gleefully sprayed her with champagne and beer and took turns hugging her.

Quite a different scene from the last tournament when Ochoa fought back tears after losing to Karrie Webb in a playoff at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

"What happened a couple of weeks ago just made me a better player, and made me want to win so bad that I came out really strong this week," Ochoa said Saturday after her wire-to-wire victory in the Takefuji Classic.

"I think those playoffs really taught me when you are under pressure, how to just focus and how to really be aggressive when you need to be aggressive. At the end, they help you for the experience and your golf, and I think that's what they did."

Ochoa, who also lost in a playoff at the season-opening event in Hawaii, nailed down her first victory of the year with a closing 6-under 66 at the Las Vegas Country Club. She finished the 54-hole tournament at 19-under 197, three shots ahead of rookie Seon Hwa Lee (66) and five in front of Brittany Lincicome (69).

Asked if it was a relief to win after her near-misses, Ochoa said she didn't want to put it that way.

"It's just a lot of joy, a lot of good things happened this week. I have a lot of friends, my sister and my cousin are here from Mexico. There are more than 30 from Mexico here," said the 24-year-old Ochoa, a native of Guadalajara and a former University of Arizona star.

"The other three times, I was by myself," she said of her earlier tour wins. "So this is the first one that I get to have them with me."

At the Nabisco, she had moved in front with a 62 the first day, remained in the lead the next two rounds and began the final day with a three-shot lead.

But she struggled on the front nine on her way to a closing 72 at Mission Hills Country Club to allow Webb to catch up. Webb holed a pitching wedge from 116 yards for eagle on the 18th hole, then beat Ochoa with a 7-foot birdie putt in a playoff.

Ochoa, who finished second to Wendy Ward at Las Vegas a year ago, opened this time with a 63, stayed two shots in front with a wind-blown 68 the second day, then clinched the title with her fine closing round of six birdies and no bogeys.

Ochoa smiled as she walked to the 18th tee with a three-shot lead. After she hit her second shot on the 495-yard par 5 over the water and to the back fringe on the final hole, she broke into a big grin. She chipped within 5 feet, then rolled the ball firmly into the center of the cup to punctuate the victory.

"I was very calm, very relaxed," she said. "It was a special round, and making that birdie on 18, that was a plus."

A year ago, she had a 74 on the opening day of the tournament before charging with rounds of 63-65 to finish two shots behind Ward.

Lee, playing in the next-to-last group, birdied No. 18 to trim Ochoa's lead to two shots, but Ochoa then built the winning margin back to three with her closing birdie.

Like Ochoa, Lee has had her share of runner-up finishes this year.

"I really enjoyed it today. I played great. But this is three times for second place so far. I keep trying to win," the 20-year-old South Korean said.

Asked her goal for next week's tournament, Lee said emphatically, "No more second place."

Juli Inkster was fourth after she birdied seven holes in a row beginning at No. 6 on her way to a 63.

"I think the most I've ever made in a row was six," she said of the string that included a 25-foot putt on No. 6 and a chip-in from 10 yards on No. 7. "So I really didn't even know how many I was making in a row. I guess that's a good sign. It's not often that you get in that little bit of a zone, so it was fun."

The 5-foot-6 Ochoa has been working with weights and has increased her distance off the tee by some 10 yards a drive. She also hit her approach shots close and putted well on her way to her fourth title since joining the tour in 2003.

She averaged more than 288 yards with her driver, and missed only six greens the entire tournament.

The $165,000 winner's prize boosted Ochoa's earnings this year to $474,051 through six tournaments.


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