Ochoa emotional as end nears in Mexico
MORELIA, Mexico – Lorena Ochoa simply wanted to give herself a chance on Sunday at the Tres Marias Championship and enjoy the moment. She’s done both.
The world No. 1 sits only three shots behind good friend Ai Miyazato, the only player in this field who could unseat her from the throne of women’s golf.
Ochoa nearly chipped in on the 18th green Saturday, and then let the emotions overtake her. It’s hard to hide the tears when the day is nearly done and thousands of Mexicans are screaming words of adoration.
“Not in a sad way, but I’m not coming back,” Ochoa said. “It’s a hard feeling.”
The 18th green at Morelia is unlike anything I’ve seen at an LPGA event. The stands are set back from the green, giving what Ochoa calls a “soccer stadium” atmosphere. They begin chanting “Lore, Lore” as soon as she strikes her tee shot, from what seems like miles away.
Ochoa replays that tee shot in her mind. With strong winds, rocks, water and tons of slope to contend with, she considers it the toughest tee shot she has faced in eight years on tour. Imagine the nerves she’ll feel on Sunday, then, with retirement looming 500-plus yards in the distance.
Mexican fans cover the hilly terrain below the left-side grandstand and spill into the rocks on the right. It’s a grand spectacle that should get even more raucous on Sunday.
Ochoa will play in the penultimate group alongside American Stacy Lewis and Korea’s Na Yeon Choi. Lewis has contended in a U.S. Women’s Open before, so she should be able to handle the crowds, though there will be a lot of movement. Mexican fans still are learning the game and any caddie paired with Ochoa would do well to learn “Stand, please!” in Spanish.
Miyazato holds a one-shot lead over long-bombers Brittany Lincicome and Michelle Wie. The trio handed the lead back and forth to one another throughout Saturday and will spend one more windy day together in Mexico.
Miyazato said at times she felt the distance disadvantage was a little unfair. She laughed when she said it though, knowing she still holds the course record of 10-under 63. Miyazato’s pinpoint accuracy and solid putting stroke can overcome the yardage. Plus, she has the confidence that comes with two early-season victories.
Ochoa needs to finish ninth or higher to maintain her top ranking should Miyazato pull off a victory. No matter what happens tomorrow, it promises to be exciting theater.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s second place, fourth place, first place,” said Ochoa. “Nobody is going to take this week away.”