2006: Ochoa gunning for No. 1

New Rochelle, N.Y.

Lorena Ochoa figuratively got over the hump. Annika Sorenstam literally did not. And suddenly there could be a shift at the top of women’s golf.

Ochoa entered the Sybase Classic on fire, having finished first or second the previous five weeks. But four of those were seconds, and added to her four runner-up finishes in 2005 (with only one title), she had to be feeling a little frustration.

There also was another, unspoken fact looming: Ochoa, who last week moved to No. 2 behind Sorenstam in the Rolex World Golf Rankings, never had won with the Swede in the field.

Ochoa, 24, checked both items off her list May 21 at a testy Wykagyl Country Club, shooting a bogey-free final-round 66 for a 5-under 208 total, her second victory of the year and the fifth of her career. Hee-Won Han (69) tied for second with rookie Kyeong Bae (66), two shots back.

On a day when much of the leaderboard went backward, Ochoa charged to win an event that was rain shortened to 54 holes. She now leads the tour in money ($1,114,888), Rolex Player of the Year points (139) and scoring average (69.17).

The Mexico native’s recent streak has coincided with Sorenstam’s longest winless streak – six tournaments – since she went 10 consecutive events without a victory in 2001, and has some people thinking that Ochoa is ready to make a run at the Swede’s long-held perch atop the women’s game. Ochoa leads No. 2 Karrie Webb by $179,686. Sorenstam is No. 7 at $513,273.

The last time Webb or Sorenstam did not win the money title was 1995, a string Ochoa is determined to break.

“Things are going to change,” Ochoa said. “We’re all working hard to be in that position. That’s my goal and dream.

“I feel comfortable right now. I know I can do it. I’m ready to win tournaments.”

Ochoa has played 10 events this season and has had a chance to win on the final day in eight of them.

“I feel really good with my game now,” Ochoa said.

Sorenstam cannot say the same, especially after her fiasco at Wykagyl’s par-4 ninth hole Sunday. Coming off her first missed cut since 2002, the Swede had rebounded nicely and stood only two shots out of the lead at 3 under before taking a triple bogey on the tricky ninth and falling five back. She eventually tied for sixth.

Sorenstam hit three shots that landed about midway on the elevated green and spun back down the steep hill that fronts the putting surface. The 7 dropped her to even for the tournament and she finished with a 3-over 74 for a 213 total.

“What can I say?” she said. “I hit a lot of good shots (at the ninth), I really did. It’s a tough green. I hit a 9-iron the first time and I thought it was a great shot. Then I hit a sand wedge. I don’t know what to say other than that. I made seven good shots.”

Asked if she had ever had an experience like that, Sorenstam said: “If I have, I’ve totally forgot about it.” What she can’t forget is the way Ochoa is playing – and gunning for her No. 1 position.

“It’s incredible,” Sorenstam said. “She’s playing some great golf. A lot of people who have played with her before know she’s capable of that, and she’s definitely proving it.”

Bauer back on board: It has been a while since Beth Bauer’s name has appeared atop the leaderboard of an LPGA event, but there it was after her 3-under 68 shared the Round 1 lead with Natalie Gulbis and Hee-Won Han.

If any player needed a good tournament, it was the 2002 LPGA Rookie of the Year, who shot 74-73 the last two rounds to tie for 11th – her first top-15 finish since 2003 and her first made cut since the Corning Classic last May, a span of 14 missed cuts in a row.

The former Duke standout lost her exempt status following a 2005 season

in which she made only six of 18 cuts and finished 110th on the money list.

“I just feel like it’s been coming,” Bauer said. “The scores have been getting lower and lower and my confidence has been growing, so I’m definitely excited for things to come.”

Bauer is No. 374 in the Golfweek/ Sagarin Performance Index after starting the season at No. 251.

Short shots: Second-year pro Allison Hanna, who had missed her last four cuts and five of eight this year, birdied three of the first four holes and led by as many as three strokes on the back nine until four-putting No. 15 from about 60 feet and three-putting the par-3 16th from about 15 feet for bogeys. The former Ohio State standout finished fourth after a final-round 71, easily surpassing her previous-best career finish, a tie for 22nd at the season-opening SBS Open. . . . Only five players broke par for the week, and the scoring average was 75.061. The cut was 8-over 150, the highest on tour this year. . . . First-round play was suspended for 1 hour, 23 minutes because of a heavy downpour, then heavy rain and a saturated course forced LPGA officials to cancel Friday’s play. Fifteen players had to complete their first rounds Saturday morning. . . . The last LPGA event shortened to 54 holes by weather was the 2003 State Farm Classic. . . . Shi Hyun Ahn was disqualified for not signing her scorecard after a first-round 75.

– Staff and wire reports

On the tee

Next up: ShopRite LPGA Classic, June 2-4, Seaview Marriott Resort & Spa (Bay Course), Galloway Township, N.J. Defending champion: Annika Sorenstam.

The buzz: Many players will use this as a tuneup for the season’s second major, the McDonald’s LPGA Championship, to be held the following week.

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