Mexico's Ochoa Wins Corona Morelia

Monday, October 9th 2006, 6:41 am
By: News On 6

MORELIA, Mexico (AP) _ Lorena Ochoa left no doubt about the importance of her breakthrough victory Sunday in her home country.

``Definitely this is the most important day of my professional career,'' Ochoa said. ``For me, this was the most important tournament. I enjoyed it so much.''

The 24-year-old Guadalajara native won for the first time in four LPGA Tour starts in Mexico, closing with a 4-under 69 to easily hold off Julieta Granada and Paula Creamer in the Corona Morelia Championship.

A group of friends and family sprayed Ochoa with champagne and beer after she made her final putt. Her coach and father lifted the Mexican flag high, then cloaked her in it as fans in the galleries bellowed.

Ochoa, who never trailed after shooting a course-record 64 in the second round Friday, won for the fourth time this season to tie Karrie Webb for the tour lead. Ochoa finished at 20-under 272 on the hilly, Jack Nicklaus-designed Tres Marias course, five strokes better than Granada.

Granada, the 19-year-old up-and-comer from Paraguay, shot a 71. Creamer, 20, had Sunday's best round, a 65 that left her third at 14 under.

Ochoa began the round three strokes ahead of Granada, but things got a bit tense after Ochoa bogeyed the 161-yard, par-3 third hole. She recovered with a birdie on the par-4 fourth, only to watch Granada birdie the hole and add another on the 134-yard, par-3 sixth to move within a stroke.

``Julieta started really good, made a couple of birdies at the beginning and kept me under pressure,'' Ochoa said. ``She just kind of really pushed me.''

But Ochoa responded, pushing her advantage back to two strokes with a birdie on the par-5 eighth and adding three more birdies on the back nine.

``At the beginning, I was a little bit out of control,'' she said. ``Because of the adrenaline, I was hitting the ball too hard. But the back nine, I managed to be very solid, just hitting the ball very straight and very consistent.''

Granada, meanwhile, couldn't mount a late push, failing to get a birdie after No. 10, and making a bogey on the 345-yard 11th for the fourth day in a row.

``I just don't know how to get the mechanics right on that one,'' she said.

With her seventh victory in the last three seasons, Ochoa earned $150,000 to stay atop the LPGA Tour money list and raise her season total to $2,124,122. She joined Annika Sorenstam as the only LPGA Tour players top $2 million in a season.

``There are those who say we are behind Annika,'' she said. ``With all of this, maybe we are showing we are catching up with her a bit.''

Ochoa, a former University of Arizona standout, was a non-factor at last year's inaugural Corona Morelia Championship and at the LPGA Tour's MasterCard Classic played outside Mexico City in March 2005 and 2006. She had faltered under pressure, pressing too hard to impress droves of fans, who hung on her every swing.

But this year's Corona Morelia was Ochoa's to lose after her breakout round Friday. Her final round felt like a full-blown fiesta even before she began play _ with fans bracing for an 18-hole victory lap for Ochoa, who grew up in and still lives in Guadalajara, 175 miles from charming and colonial Morelia.

Supporters bunched around Ochoa hours before her round began, straining to watch her on the driving range and jockeying for position outside the yellow ropes ringing the putting green.

``My brothers, my parents, even the dog made the trip,'' Ochoa told the crowd upon accepting the tournament trophy from Lazaro Cardenas, the governor of Michoacan state.

Hundreds followed her from hole-to-hole, many wearing red caps and T-shirts embroidered with her 'L' logo, and thousands of others watched from the galleries, some waving Mexican flags.

They screamed ``Bravo!'' and ``Let's go Lorena!'' after nearly every shot, but also warmly cheered Granada, who played alongside Ochoa in an all-Latin pairing.

Granada, whose caddie is her mother, Rosa, said she considers Ochoa a big sister on the LPGA Tour. The pair chatted in Spanish while waiting to hit tee shots, but later competed fiercely on fairways and greens.

It was the sixth time Ochoa has begun the final round ahead _ and the third time she held the lead to win.

``It's an honor, it's great for all Mexicans,'' said Ramon De Alba, 65, who drove three hours from Guadalajara to follow Ochoa. ``She's the first Mexican woman to be great in golf and now she's been great in Mexico, with all of us.''

Golf is still relatively unheard of in soccer-obsessed Mexico, where public courses are nonexistent and only the wealthiest of the wealthy can afford to join exclusive and mostly secluded private clubs. But Ochoa success is slowly starting to chance that, said Cristina Chevarin, 59, also from Guadalajara.

``Golf is a little too expensive,'' Chevarin said. ``But the youngsters are starting to play more golf since Lorena made a name for herself.''

South Korea's Young-A Yang (69) finished fourth at 10 under, and Wendy Ward (71), Silvia Cavalleri (70), Kelli Kuehne (69), 18-year-old Morgan Pressel (71) and Becky Morgan (69) followed at 9 under.