Ochoa takes wire-to-wire victory


LAS VEGAS (AP) – Lorena Ochoa rebounded from a painful playoff loss at the year’s first major with her first victory of the season, shooting a closing 6-under 66 Saturday to win the Takefuji Classic.

Ochoa, who has lost twice in playoffs this year, wrapped up the 54-hole event at Las Vegas Country Club at 19-under 197, three shots in front of Seon Hwa Lee and five ahead of Brittany Lincicome.

The wire-to-wire victory was in dramatic contrast to Ochoa’s fade in the LPGA’s last tournament, the Kraft Nabisco Championship two weeks ago.

Ochoa had moved in front in the Nabisco with a 62 the first day, remained in the lead the next two rounds and began the final day with a three-shot lead.

But she struggled on the front nine on her way to a closing 72 at Mission Hills Country Club to allow Karrie Webb to catch up. Webb then made a 7-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to deny Ochoa her first major championship.

The 24-year-old Ochoa, from Guadalajara, Mexico, opened with a 63 in Las Vegas, stayed two shots in front with a wind-blown 68 the second day, then clinched the title with her fine closing round.

Ochoa smiled as she walked to the 18th tee with a three-shot lead. After she hit her second shot on the 495-yard par 5 over the water and to the back fringe on the final hole, she broke into a big grin.

She chipped within 5 feet, then rolled the ball firmly into the center of the cup to punctuate the victory with her sixth birdie of the day.

Friends and family immediately surrounded her, laughing, spraying her with beer and champagne and hugging her.

That too, was in marked contrast to the finish of the Nabisco, when Ochoa fought back tears.

A year ago, she had a 74 on the opening day of the Las Vegas tournament before charging with rounds of 63-65 to finish second, two shots behind Wendy Ward.

Lee also shot a closing 66 to finish alone in second after Lincicome hit into the water in front of No. 18 and took a bogey for a 69. Lee, in the group ahead, birdied the hole.

Juli Inkster was fourth after a 63 left her at 13 under.

The 5-foot-6 Ochoa has been working with weights and has increased her distance off the tee by some 10 yards a drive. She also hit her approach shots close and putted well on her way to her fourth title since joining the tour out of the University of Arizona in 2003.

Along with losing to Webb in that playoff, Ochoa lost on the first hole of a three-way playoff in the tour’s season-opening event, with Joo Mi Kim winning that tournament in Hawaii.

The following week in Hawaii, Ochoa finished tied for fourth.

AP-ES-04-15-06 1926EDT