ACAPULCO, Mexico (AP) - Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam joked and even discussed the possibility of a wager on the eve of their US$15,000-a-hole skins game showdown.
But the top-ranked Ochoa said the competition between the two friends was "anything but casual." They both came to win, and prepare for the upcoming U.S. Women's Open. "I will learn a lot, and it will make me a better player," Ochoa said.
Ochoa has less to prove this year as she faces Sorenstam, down to No. 2 in the world as she returns from neck and back problems, for the second time at the seaside Tres Vidas course in Acapulco's upscale Diamante region. The Mexican star overtook Sorenstam in the rankings in April.
But that doesn't mean the pressure isn't on Ochoa, who lost a skins event to Sorenstam in September and is still struggling to win her first major title.
Ochoa said she would use Saturday to "manage my pressure, manage my game." And she said she believed a major championship was just around the corner.
"There's nothing more I can do than be patient," she said.
Saturday's two-player event could be the boost she needs.
Sorenstam struggled with the unfamiliar course last year, and she only returned to tour play three weeks ago after missing two months of competition because of neck and back injuries. Still, she brushed aside reporters' suggestions that she might be frustrated with her new ranking.
"I have fallen in the world rankings, but that's to be expected when you aren't playing," she said.
In a news conference at an exclusive, clifftop resort overlooking the Pacific, Sorenstam said she wasn't bothered facing Ochoa as the underdog.
"I'm happy for her. She has played tremendous golf for the last year and a half," Sorenstam said of Ochoa. "But I'm also very competitive, and I hope to be back to 100 per cent soon so I can give her a run for her money."
Sorenstam said she had been pain-free for six weeks, but she acknowledged that she wasn't playing 100 per cent, and that Ochoa had a "home turf" advantage.
But she said she still wanted to repeat her win from last September, when she finished with $165,000 to Ochoa's $105,000.
The Swedish star said she enjoyed her time off, and spent it designing courses and starting a new foundation. But she stressed that she had no plans to retire, and wanted to quickly get back to playing her best on the LPGA Tour, which she said was competitive and in "as good a position as it's ever been."
Competition aside, the two former University of Arizona players said they enjoy hanging out together in Acapulco. Last year, Sorenstam said she had fun seeing the resort's famous cliff divers and nightlife.
"I like the tacos and the margaritas," she said.
When asked if she and Ochoa had a private wager, she left the possibility open.
"Not yet," she said. "I just arrived a few hours ago, but the evening is still young,"