Ochoa eagles her way to Las Vegas lead

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LAS VEGAS – Lorena Ochoa used a couple of fine shots with her 5-wood to set up two eagles and take the opening-round lead in the Takefuji Classic.

“I’m hitting the ball probably 10 yards farther than last year,” Ochoa said of her drives during the tournament’s opening day Thursday.

“So I know I can reach all the par-5s in two,” she said. “I made two eagles today and that was the big difference in my game.”

Her 9-under 63 gave her a two-shot lead over Shi Hyun Ahn, with defending champion Wendy Ward in a group tied for third at 67.

Ochoa knocked her 5-wood within 30 feet on the par-5, 504-yard No. 6 at the Las Vegas Country Club, then rolled in the long putt from the back fringe. Pulling the wood out of her bag again on No. 18, she hit within 12 feet of the pin and sank that putt.

Ochoa also had six birdies and one bogey – on the opening hole – as she moved to the top of the leaderboard.

In a way, the 24-year-old Ochoa, from Guadalajara, Mexico, picked up right where she left off last year at Las Vegas.

She finished the 2005 tournament on a roll that carried her into second place, finishing two shots behind Ward. Charging back into contention after an opening 74, Ochoa shot 63-65 the final two days.

“Last year, I felt really good. I enjoy playing here,” Ochoa said.

Said Ward: “I took a peek at the board on 17 and saw Lorena at 7 (under). She was chasing me (last year); now she’s passed me.”

Asked about her longer drives this year, Ochoa explained that she’s been working with weights more, and has improved her club head position at the top of her backswing.

A former University of Arizona star, Ochoa has won three titles and more than $3 million since joining the tour full-time in 2003. Although she has yet to win this year, she has finished second twice, including losing to Karrie Webb in a playoff in the first major of the season, the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Ahn, a 21-year-old from Inchon, South Korea, finished tied for third with Paula Creamer in Las Vegas last year, one shot back of Ochoa.

Talking about her string of six birdies that began on No. 11 during the first round this time, Ahn said through said through a translator: “I wasn’t trying to make birdies. I was just trying to stay calm and focus and play shot by shot, and that made me more birdies.”

She made four putts from around 12 feet, one from 10 feet, and another from 9 feet during that run.

AP-ES-04-14-06 0330EDT

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