2005: Sorenstam KO’s wobbly Ochoa

Gold Canyon, Ariz.

To be the best, you have to beat the best. On the LPGA, that means you must stare Annika Sorenstam in the face, know you’re in for a fight, and trade blows with her as if it were a 12-round heavyweight boxing championship.

For 15 holes of the final round, that’s exactly what Lorena Ochoa did March 20 at the Safeway International.

Then she staggered, and Sorenstam took advantage as only she can.

Thanks to plenty of help from Ochoa, the world’s No. 1 player made up a four-stroke deficit over the final three holes, forcing a playoff with a birdie on the 18th hole at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club, then winning the first hole of a playoff for her 58th career LPGA victory and 19th comeback win. Sorenstam said she couldn’t recall many that were more dramatic.

“This is in the top three, for sure,” said Sorenstam, who shot 2-under 70 in the final round to earn $210,000 and win her fourth consecutive LPGA start. She is 2-for-2 in 2005, has won seven of her last nine events worldwide and surpassed the $16 million mark in career LPGA earnings.

Her birdie on the 72nd hole came after her 4-wood second shot just made it over a bunker and onto the green on the par-5 finishing hole.

“Carrying 217 (yards), with the wind here, it was on the edge,” said Sorenstam, who was playing one group ahead of Ochoa. “I had to take a chance, I really did, and I think it just carried by inches.”

Sorenstam easily two-putted from 22 feet, tapping in for birdie to pull her into a tie with Ochoa (74) at 11-under 277. Juli Inkster (72) and Soo-Yun Kang (76) tied for third at 8 under.

As good as Sorenstam is, however, this tournament was more about what Ochoa didn’t do – knock Sorenstam out when she had the chance.

Ochoa stepped to the tee on the 16th hole with a four-shot lead, but made double bogey on the hole for the second consecutive day to cut her lead to two shots. She then missed a 7-footer for par on the par-3 17th to narrow the gap even further and provide Sorenstam with an opening.

“I’m pretty upset, but I’m going to try not to be too hard on myself,” said Ochoa, ranked No. 2 in the Golfweek/ Sagarin Performance Index. “I’m going to try to learn from this. You know, Annika is the best player in the world, and hopefully I come back next week.”

The 23-year-old Mexico native said she didn’t fear No. 16, a 412-yard par 4, despite being a combined 3 over on the hole in the first three rounds. But she drove into a fairway bunker, barely got her sand wedge shot over a transition area and three-putted from 15 feet.

Ochoa still had a chance to win in regulation, but her putter again let her down on No. 18, as she missed an 8-foot birdie try with Sorenstam watching.

In the playoff, the pair went back to the 18th tee, and Ochoa put her tee shot into the long, narrow lake on the course’s only water hole. Sorenstam was again pin-high with her second shot, chipped to within 7 feet and two-putted for par. Ochoa’s attempt to save par with a chip went 5 feet past the cup.

It was a bitter ending for Ochoa, who had talked earlier in the week about her desire to overtake Sorenstam.

“It’s my dream to play with her, beside her, and beat her. So we’ll see. We’ll wait for that moment. . . .

“I’m just trying to get the distance shorter, just try to make it closer and closer, year by year.”

Instead, it seems Sorenstam pulls farther and farther away.

– Staff and wire reports

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