Ochoa Trails by 1 at LPGA's First Major

Friday, March 30th 2007, 8:17 am
By: News On 6

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) _ Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam looked like two players headed in opposite directions. Sorenstam, the No. 1 player in women's golf, stood behind the ninth green Thursday in the Kraft Nabisco and tried to figure out what went wrong in her round of 3-over 75, her worst start in a major in seven years. ``I felt good coming in here and got off to a terrible start,'' she said.

Ochoa is No. 2, but maybe not for long.

The 25-year-old Mexican star walked briskly and confidently off the 18th green after her fifth birdie of the opening round that gave her a 3-under 69, one shot out of the lead set earlier in the day by Shi Hyun Ahn.

``I've been working on having a good first round,'' Ochoa said. ``We were very conscious about it today, getting a good start. That's what we did. I'm really happy with my day.''

Ahn and Ochoa were the only players to break 70 in the opening round of the LPGA Tour's first major, which played the part with its thick rough and firm greens that already had a yellow sheen to them by the end of the sun-splashed day in the desert.

Defending champion Karrie Webb was in the group another shot behind after opening with a 70 and finishing with a shot that brought back so many memories from last year.

Webb holed a pitching wedge from 116 yards to make eagle on the 18th hole a year ago, eventually winning in a playoff over Ochoa. The Australian was a little closer to the hole Thursday, only 82 yards away with a sand wedge in her hand. The ball fed off the slope and rolled toward the hole as the fans rose to their feet, wondering what year it was.

Alas, it stopped a few inches away.

Webb still managed to ham it up. She threw her wedge to the ground in mock disgust, although the smile gave it away.

``I was just having some fun, like, 'Damn. Didn't go in the hole,''' Webb said.

Ochoa played with her, and had a few laughs herself.

Last year, Ochoa led wire-to-wire until she crumbled on the last day, although she made an eagle putt on the 18th hole in the final group to get into a playoff that lasted only one hole.

She has seen the highlights of Webb's eagle last year. She thought she might see it live.

``It was exciting,'' Ochoa said. ``I just said, 'Come on, you want to make it again and now it's in front of me?' She just laughed. I have no problem with her making those on a Thursday. It makes a big difference.''

What a difference a year makes.

Ochoa opened with a 62 last year, which tied the record for LPGA majors.

No way anyone was going to shoot that low on a Mission Hills course that allowed only nine rounds under par, with former Nabisco champion Pat Hurst and Women's British Open champion Sherri Steinhauer among those at 71.

``They're Sunday hard right now,'' Webb said. ``They need to be careful. But you're looking at a hard, brown, shiny surface, although they're not as fast as it seems. I left quite a few putts short.''

Ochoa thought about another record round the way she started.

Ahn posted her 68 in the morning, making three straight birdies around the turn, the best one a 5-iron into 12 feet on the par-3 eighth.

Ochoa, coming off a victory last week outside Phoenix that left her poised to supplant Sorenstam at No. 1 with a win this week, birdied her first two holes and added tap-in birdies on the seventh and ninth.

Even so, she left plenty out there. Ochoa was quick with her stroke, and missed ample birdie chances inside 12 feet, all to the left. She figured that out, but her momentum slowed when her wedge into the par-5 11th clipped some trees and she took bogey.

``I didn't even know those trees were in my way,'' she said. ``Once I made that bogey, I had to remind myself, 'This is a major championship.' You have to take that bogey and try to keep it going.''

Sorenstam simply couldn't get started.

Even after finishing with a birdie, she jammed her putter into the bag with disgust, then stood behind the ninth green with hands on her hips after her worst start at a major in seven years. Her score could have been higher if not for a few par saves.

``I'd like to forget this day,'' she said.

Sorenstam's score was her highest in the opening round of a major since she shot 76 at the Kraft Nabisco in 2000. Even more frustrating was that she wasn't sure how it happened.

``I felt good. I felt ready. And then I got off to a really terrible start,'' she said.

Starting on the back nine, the 36-year-old Swede hit her approach stiff on the 12th for a birdie to go 1 under, then split the middle of the 13th fairway and had 123 yards to the hole. She chunked her second shot. Her chip was about 20 feet long and above the hole. And she three-putted for double bogey.

That was the start of Sorenstam missing five consecutive greens, and she did well to save par with a 20-foot putt on the 15th and a chip from across the green on the 16th to about 3 feet.

``It wasn't anything in particular,'' Sorenstam said. ``But I'm not going to let this round ruin the rest of the week. I'm going to get some lunch, hit some balls and this day is forgotten.''