Ochoa Stum­bles, Opens Door for Pak

The Washington Post Sunday - - Hockey - By Leonard Shapiro

RAN­CHO MI­RAGE, Calif., March 31 — As Lorena Ochoa walked across the bridge from the 18th green back to­ward the scorer’s trailer, sev­eral of her more vo­cal sup­port­ers cried out, “Mañana, Lorena, mañana.”

But how could Ochoa help but think about late Satur­day af­ter­noon, when the 25-year-old Mex­i­can with a chance to over­take An­nika Soren­stam as the No. 1 player in the world this week in­stead watched her chances for vic­tory in the Kraft Nabisco Cham­pi­onship un­ravel with a stun­ning quadru­ple-bo­gey 7 at the 173-yard 17th hole in the third round at Mis­sion Hills Coun­try Club.

Ochoa was only a shot be­hind the lead of 4-un­der-par 212 posted by South Korean Se Ri Pak, play­ing a hole ahead, when a poor swing with a 6-iron ul­ti­mately led to a 77 and a pre­cip­i­tous tum­ble down the leader board. Ochoa went from a tie for sec­ond place at 3 un­der to a tie for 12th en­ter­ing Sun­day’s fi­nal round, five shots be­hind Pak, a five-time ma­jor cham­pi­onship win­ner, and Nor­way’s Suzann Pet­tersen, also in at 212 when she birdied the last hole.

Ochoa’s tee shot at the 17th clipped a branch down the left side and dropped al­most straight down, 30 yards from the flag with an up­hill shot to the putting sur­face. Her sec­ond shot rolled off the back of the green into more deep rough, and she es­sen­tially whiffed on her third shot chip, hit­ting un­der­neath the ball with a sand wedge and not mov­ing it.

She changed her stance with the same club and her fourth shot ran 40 feet past the hole, all the way to the front of the green. She three-putted from there, miss­ing a seven-foot putt that would have sal­vaged a triple bo­gey. She man­aged to col­lect her­self well enough to make a par at the 18th, and af­ter she signed her card, she re­ceived sev­eral long, con­sol­ing hugs from fam­ily mem­bers stand­ing nearby.

“I don’t even know how to ex­plain it,” Ochoa said out­side the scorer’s trailer. “One bad swing and I’m just sorry the way it turned out. I was be­tween clubs. I hit a 6-iron and got a bad break. It just hap­pened. But I’m still very pos­i­tive. It would be a crazy story if some­one makes a quadru­ple bo­gey and then wins the tour­na­ment.

“I gave my­self a lot of birdie op­por­tu­ni­ties. I had six putts on the lip to­day. Maybe I’m wait­ing for some­thing spe­cial to­mor­row. I’m hu­man. A lot of things hap­pened. I was one be­hind the leader and all of a sud­den I’m way back. But you have to get it out of your sys­tem. I’m okay.”

Ochoa had a three-shot lead af­ter 54 holes of this same event last year but was caught from be­hind on Sun­day when vet­eran Aus­tralian Kar­rie Webb holed out a wedge shot from the fair­way for an ea­gle at the 72nd hole.

Ochoa also ea­gled the 72nd and forced a sud­den-death play­off. She even­tu­ally lost to Webb by a shot on the first hole.

“I’ll try to give my­self a good chance to­mor­row,” Ochoa said. “That’s all I can do.”

Pak gave her­self a won­der­ful chance to win this event for the first time when she birdied the 531-yard 18th hole with a 30-foot putt that evoked a huge roar from hun­dreds watch­ing all around. She posted her sec­ond straight round of 2-un­der 70 and shares a one-shot lead with Pet­tersen over Paula Creamer (73) and Meaghan Fran­cella (69), both at 213.

“I don’t re­ally have very much pres­sure be­cause I’ve been here many, many times,” Pak said. “It’s not easy. It’s very stress­ful, ev­ery sin­gle shot. But it’s re­ally fun. The first three rounds, I didn’t make too many mis­takes. I know I’m go­ing to have some bo­geys, but I’m still go­ing to take it. I’m happy to make bo­geys on some shots. It’s not easy out there.”

Brit­tany Lin­ci­come also got her­self into the mix when she ea­gled the 18th and was at 2-un­der 214, alone in fifth place. A to­tal of nine play­ers are within four shots of the lead, 11 within five shots.

A day af­ter shoot­ing 67, the low score of the tour­na­ment, Creamer was not quite as ac­cu­rate with her ap­proaches to most greens. But on a bak­ing course that gets pro­gres­sively more dif­fi­cult with each pass­ing round, she barely missed tak­ing a share of the lead when she three-putted the 18th hole from 40 feet.

“Dumb bo­gey on the last hole, kind of wish I could go back and hit that wedge again,” said Creamer, try­ing to win her first ca­reer ma­jor cham­pi­onship in her third full sea­son on the tour. “But other than that, I’m one back, and to­mor­row is def­i­nitely go­ing to be a shootout. I think peo­ple are re­al­iz­ing it’s hard, but it’s out there. You can go low. If you get your mind set, you can shoot 67 to­mor­row, but you have to play smart.”

Pak, who will be in­ducted into the Hall of Fame next fall, al­ready has five ma­jor ti­tles, but a vic­tory in this event would give her a ca­reer Grand Slam — at least one vic­tory in each of the four women’s ma­jors.

Soren­stam re­bounded from her first two pedes­trian rounds and came in Satur­day with her first sub-par score of the week, a 71 that left her far back in the pack, 10 off the lead, but at least feel­ing a tad bet­ter about her game fol­low­ing her open­ing rounds of 75 and 76.

“A lit­tle bet­ter, but still not re­ally what I like,” she said. “Baby steps, I guess. I don’t re­ally know what I’m do­ing dif­fer­ently, that’s the funny part. When you’re tee­ing off on the 10th hole in a ma­jor [to start the third round], it doesn’t re­ally feel like you’re in a ma­jor any more. You’re to­tally loose. I didn’t have a sin­gle but­ter­fly to­day. It’s so dif­fer­ent. It’s far from a ma­jor feel­ing of what it should be.”

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