KRAFT NABISCO CHAMPIONSHIP
World No. 1 Annika Sorenstam opened play at the Kraft Nabisco Championship with a 71.
Ochoa masters first round
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. » When you start listing the women who could challenge Annika Sorenstam for the world No. 1 ranking, it doesn't take long to mention Lorena Ochoa's name.
Better known at times for her near misses instead of her three LPGA Tour wins, Ochoa did her best yesterday to erase any self-doubt by shooting a 10-under 62 that equals the best round in the history of a major event on the women's tour.
While most of the crowd in the morning rounds followed the pairing of Michelle Wie and Japan's Ai Miyazato, the fourth-year tour player quietly went along and shot a 5-under 31 on the back nine and another 5-under 31 on the front.
Entering today's second round, Ochoa holds a four-shot advantage over Wie and is five shots clear of Stacy Prammanasudh after taking advantage of friendly pin placements and near-perfect conditions at the Mission Hills Country Club to post the best round of her career.
More importantly, she's nine shots removed from Sorenstam, who did little to move into contention during yesterday's opening round, settling for a 1-under 71 that left her in a tie for 16th. Not that Ochoa is trying on clothes best suited for diving into Champions Lake as the winner on Sunday. She knows she still has a long way to go.
"This is a good start to the tournament," Ochoa said. "I didn't think it was going to be this good. I just tried to really focus and concentrate.
"You're never thinking how many under you are going to go. You play one hole at a time, especially at a major, and that's what I did."
Still, Ochoa has some skeletons in her golf bag that need tending. Last year, she lost to Sorenstam in a playoff at the Safeway International in the first of four runner-up finishes. At this year's SBS Open in Hawaii, she fell short in another playoff to Joo Mi Kim after failing to birdie the first extra hole.
And what does she take from all these second-place finishes?
Nothing negative. She prefers to see it as an opportunity missed and a lesson learned.
"Just it's golf," Ochoa said of her loss to Sorenstam at last year's Safeway. "I try not to be too hard on myself, just move on. I gave myself a chance to win the tournament, especially it was with Annika, so you want to lose against the best player.
"And now it's time to play more tournaments and hopefully it becomes my time. I'm waiting."
While Ochoa was burning up the par-72 Dinah Shore course, Wie was shooting a round worthy of mention as well. The 16-year-old of Punahou School fame opened with three birdies on the front and three more on the back, as she missed only two fairways and hit all 18 greens in regulation.
Wie believed she was in front alone after birdieing the par-3 17th until she saw a leaderboard that showed Ochoa was 8 under through only 12 holes. If it bothered her, she didn't show it as she parred the last to post the second-best round of the day.
"I'm proud I played solidly throughout the whole round," Wie said. "There were a couple of holes where I didn't feel comfortable, but I just survived on those holes and I came back. That's what I'm really proud of. And I think that's what I need on this course."
It appeared Prammanasudh would join her at 6 under until she drove her ball into the water at the 18th to finish at 5-under 67. It was the best round among the golfers playing in the afternoon. Amateur Angela Park, who will turn pro on Monday, was another shot back at 4-under 68.
There were five golfers in at 3-under 69, including Juli Inkster, who won the Safeway International two weeks ago, Morgan Pressel and world No. 2 Paula Creamer. Creamer is paired with Sorenstam as the top two golfers went head-to-head.
"It's only Thursday; I have three more days," Sorenstam said of her average start. "I'm looking forward to it. I still feel good about my game. Today it was almost. It was very, very close, but not really it. And right now, I don't really know what I've got to do to make it a great one, maybe make a few putts, maybe hit a few drives."
As for Ochoa's score, it made Sorenstam look twice at the leaderboard to see if the numbers were correct. They were.
"What can I say -- it was a fantastic round," Sorenstam said. "This golf course is not easy and she made it look easy. But I'm telling you, that's an incredible round, an impressive start.
"It's still a major and anything can happen. We've all seen it. I just have to focus on my own game. I have to post some scores myself and see where it takes me."
Creamer concurred. Granted, Ochoa is seven shots removed from the 2005 rookie of the year, but she still has time to climb the leaderboard.
"Lorena played a fantastic round," Creamer said. "You just can't look at the scoreboard after that. There are still three more days and you can't dwell on being seven back, really. You just have to think how you're going to move up the leaderboard over the next couple of days."