Ochoa Stumbles, Opens Door for Pak
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.”