2006: Han just keeps winning

Quick, name the only golfer not named Annika Sorenstam to finish in the top eight on the LPGA money list each of the past three years. If you said Hee-Won Han, you’d be correct.

One of the tour’s most underrated players won again Oct. 22 at the inaugural Honda LPGA Thailand, Han’s sixth career victory and second of 2006.

The Korean has won at least one event every year since 2003, and her $195,000 paycheck Sunday put

her in a familiar position at No. 8 in earnings ($1,111,011). Han has finished fourth, eighth and eighth, respectively, on the money list the past three years.

Conditions in Thailand were sweltering, but it seemed Han barely broke a sweat, as her five-stroke victory was her easiest by far. Three of Han’s first five titles came in sudden-death playoffs and the other two were by two strokes.

“I have never won by this much,” Han said. “When I got to the 15th hole, actually after the ninth hole, I played pretty comfortable. I thought I played pretty good today, and I’m very happy about the win.”

Han, who trailed second-round leader Nicole Castrale by two at the start of the day, gave herself the comfortable cushion with birdies on five of her first seven holes in a final-round 67. She finished with a 14-under 202 total, five ahead of Diana D’Alessio (70).

Castrale, who had only three bogeys in her first two rounds, posted five bogeys on the first 12 holes Sunday on her way to a 3-over 75. She tied for third with Candie Kung (69) and Gloria Park (71).

After Han birdied the second hole with a 4-foot birdie putt, Castrale made back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 3 and 4. Han then made four consecutive birdies on holes 4-7 – three on putts of 8 feet or less, plus a chip-in from just off the green on the par-3 fifth – to take a three-stroke lead at the turn.

To Han, the next goal in her career is clear: “I would like to win a major,” she said.

Then maybe people would notice.

-A new No. 1: Lorena Ochoa’s long-stated desire has been to be the No. 1 women’s golfer in the world. Following her Oct. 15 victory over Annika Sorenstam at the Samsung World Championship, the fourth-year pro from Mexico accomplished that goal in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index.

Ochoa’s ascension to the top spot marks the first time since March 19, 2001, that Sorenstam has not been

No. 1. She replaced Karrie Webb on that date more than 5 1/2 years ago. Ochoa has a rating of 68.19 to Sorenstam’s 68.35 in the Oct. 22 edition of the Golfweek rankings, which are based on a player’s head-to-head performance against other players over the past 52 weeks. Neither player competed in Thailand.

Ochoa, who has five LPGA victories this year to Sorenstam’s three, had been No. 2 for six weeks. The Guadalajara, Mexico, native leads the LPGA money list with $2,342,872, compared with Sorenstam’s $1,906,106. She is only the second women’s player in history to surpass $2 million in earnings in a season. Ochoa also leads Sorenstam in Rolex Player of the Year Points, 283-218, and in scoring average, 69.29-69.75. Sorenstam and Ochoa have played in 17 common events this year, with a head-to-head record of 8-8-1.

Sorenstam is still a comfortable No. 1 in the LPGA-sanctioned Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, which is based on a two-year rolling window. Ochoa is No. 2.

-Short shots: Temperatures reached the mid-to-high 90s and combined with high humidity to cause extremely hot conditions in the tour’s first visit to Thailand. That led many fans – and some players – to carry umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun at Amata Spring Country Club. Still, the trip was a hit with many players. “I’ve had so much fun,” said Christina Kim, who tied for sixth. “Going to the markets in the evening and haggling. It is a beautiful country. Even when you are driving down the highway on the bus it is just so foreign and different. . . . It is awesome here. The people here have been nothing but nice.” Although Thailand’s Virada Nirapathpongporn didn’t perform as she would like in her home country, finishing tied for 55th in the 60-player field (77-73-76), she was glad to play host to her fellow players. “I’m really proud of my country to have hosted such an event as this,” she said. “I’m glad to have all of my peers here, and I think they enjoyed it very much.”

Winner Hee-Won Han became the eighth player to cross the $1 million mark this season, an LPGA record. The tour will remain in Asia the next two weeks for the Kolon-Hana Bank Championship in South Korea and the Mizuno Classic in Japan. The player who earns the most points in the three Asian events – called the Global Group – will qualify for the season-ending ADT Championship.

Staff and wire reports on the tee

-Next up: Mizuno Classic, Nov. 3-5, Kashikojima Country Club, Shima-shi, Japan. Defending champion: Annika Sorenstam.

-The buzz: Sorenstam’s victory here last year made her the first LPGA player to win the same event five consecutive times. Can she make it six?

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