Ochoa Rallies To Win Safeway International

Monday, March 26th 2007, 7:25 am
By: News On 6

SUPERSTITION MOUNTAIN, Ariz. (AP) _ Lorena Ochoa just got another reason to believe her first major victory is coming soon. Ochoa blew a four-stroke lead to Suzann Pettersen, then birdied four of the last five holes for a two-stroke victory in the Safeway International on Sunday. Next up is the LPGA Tour's first major of the year, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, which tees off Thursday in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

``Hopefully, 2007 is the year for those majors,'' said Ochoa, the tour's reigning player of the year.

Ochoa lost a playoff to Karrie Webb in last year's Kraft Nabisco Championship, her best finish in 20 career majors.

``I feel comfortable with the course,'' Ochoa said of the Dinah Shore Tournament Course. ``It's almost like this week. I have so many family members coming, and friends and relatives.''

Many of them cheered her to victory on Sunday. Chants of ``Viva Lorena!'' echoed through the foothills of the Superstition Mountains.

Wearing a green shirt and white shorts to honor her homeland, the Mexican star shot a 4-under 68 to rally past Pettersen (66). After Ochoa holed a short birdie putt on 18, an impromptu fiesta broke out on the green with her family and members of the grounds crew.

Ochoa had visited with the workers on Tuesday and thanked them for their efforts, as she does at many tournaments.

``I told them to come and celebrate with me, because this trophy is for all of you,'' Ochoa said. ``It was very nice to see their reaction and to see them close. Hopefully they enjoyed the day as much as I did. I'm very proud to be Mexican.''

Ochoa earned $225,000 in her 10th tour victory. She finished at 18 under.

``She's maybe the best in the world right now,'' said Pettersen, who made $137,649 for her career-best finish. ``She's just a very great player, and I think she raises the bar for all of us to chase her.''

Ochoa reversed the curse of the Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club, where she blew a four-stroke lead with three holes to go, losing to Annika Sorenstam in a playoff.

``It is hard to tell you right now, but in 2005 it was a really tough day for me,'' said Ochoa, a former University of Arizona player. ``It hurt me, and especially being here in Arizona, a special place for me. It was just a hard one.''

Pettersen needed only five holes to erase Ochoa's lead Sunday, birdieing the second, third, fourth and fifth holes. Pettersen surged ahead when Ochoa bogeyed the par-4 sixth, missing a 4-foot putt.

Pettersen appeared unstoppable when she birdied the par-5 seventh. But then she cooled off, and she had only one birdie over the last 11 holes.

Asked what had changed, Pettersen said, ``You don't plan to go out and make seven birdies in a row. You just have to let it happen and let it come to you.''

Pettersen, who struggled with elbow and back injuries in 2004 and 2005, went away feeling good about her game despite blowing the late lead.

``It's just been a fantastic week,'' Pettersen said. ``I was close this time. It's just nice to be in contention and feeling the pressure.''

Ochoa was feeling it when she saw Pettersen's name atop the leaderboard. But this time Ochoa didn't give in.

``I just tried to be patient,'' Ochoa said. ``I had a lot of holes left.

``I was trying too hard. Sometimes when you try too hard, it's hard to make them.''

She tied Pettersen with a birdie on the par-4 15th. Ochoa, who never trailed by more than a stroke, reclaimed the lead for good when she made a 10-foot putt on the par-3 17th.

A few moments later, Pettersen missed a 15-foot putt for birdie on the par-5 18th.

``It would have been nice to have even closed the gap on the 18th to see how she works under pressure,'' Pettersen said.

But the 18th turned out to be a procession instead of a pressure-cooker. Ochoa's gallery lined the 18th fairway, chanting their ``Viva Lorena!'' and ``Vamos Lorena!''

``It was like a football match,'' Ochoa said.

Unlike two years ago, there was no 18th hole drama _ or trauma. Ochoa drove down the middle, laid up with an iron and then chipped to 4 feet. She made the putt for a birdie, and the celebration began on the 18th green.

That's also where it ended, at least for Ochoa. After finishing her postmatch interviews, Ochoa planned to hop in a car and make the four-hour drive west through the desert to Rancho Mirage.

``I'll be listening to Mexican music so I don't fall asleep,'' Ochoa said.