Lorena's reign continues among women

Wednesday, December 26, 2007
LPGA Tour golfer Lorena Ochoa won her first major tournament in 2007. (RICK BOWMER ~ Associated Press)

Ochoa repeats as the AP Female Athlete of the Year.

Lorena Ochoa didn't have a blueprint for becoming the best in the world, and she certainly didn't have a role model. Mexico had yet to produce anything resembling a world-class golfer, and Ochoa did not look like one at age 12.

So it was surprising when she told her coach she wanted to be No. 1.

"At that time, with the way I was playing, and being in Guadalajara, it was a little bit crazy to think that way," Ochoa said toward the end of a historic season. "But I did it. It took me a long time, but I did it."

It might have seemed like a long time from when she was 12, but she took only five years on the LPGA Tour to establish her reign.

Lorena Ochoa of Mexico tees off on the second hole during the second round of the LPGA ADT Golf Championship at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., in this Nov. 16, 2007, file photo. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky,file)

She replaced Annika Sorenstam at No. 1 in the women's world ranking. She captured her first major championship at the Women's British Open, making history as the first female to win a professional event at St. Andrews. And she capped off the year with a fearless shot that defines her style, becoming the first LPGA Tour player to top $4 million in one season.

Maybe it wasn't such a crazy dream.

Such was her dominance that for the second straight year, Ochoa was the overwhelming choice as the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year. It was the fifth straight year a golfer has captured the Female Athlete award, the longest streak of any sport.

Ochoa received 71 votes from members of The Associated Press, equal to the combined total of the next seven athletes below her on the list.

She joined Sorenstam, Kathy Whitworth, Mickey Wright and Babe Zaharias as the only golfers to win the award in consecutive years.

"Being compared with such exceptional players makes me feel honored," Ochoa said in an e-mail from Mexico. "My main goal is to maintain myself as the No. 1. Therefore, I can promise to keep improving."

Justine Henin, who won her third straight French Open title in tennis, was second with 17 votes. Rounding out the top five were New York Marathon winner Paula Radcliffe, Tennessee basketball player Candace Parker and Allyson Felix, the second woman in history to win three gold medals at the World Track and Field Championships.

Never afraid to fail, Ochoa has been scaling heights since she was a girl.

She broke both wrists when she fell 15 feet from a tree at age 5. When she was 12, she trained six months to climb the snowcapped top of Pico de Orizaba, Mexico's tallest mountain at 18,405 feet.

Her rise to No. 1 also was hard work.

Twice she had a chance to reach No. 1 by winning tournaments, but a triple bogey in the third round derailed her bid at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, and a double bogey on the final hole cost her the title at the Ginn Open.

The 26-year-old Ochoa became No. 1 during a week off in April. In her first tournament as the LPGA's top player, with a frenzied gallery in Mexico ready for a coronation, she finished two shots behind unheralded Silvia Cavalleri.

Even more pressure came in the majors, the only achievement Ochoa was missing.

After blowing her chances at the Kraft Nabisco, Ochoa was tied for the lead in the U.S. Women's Open with five holes to play until two poor tee shots left her short again. But she buried those demons for good at the Women's British Open, where a gritty chip on the dangerous Road Hole secured a four-shot victory.

"There were a lot of people saying that I wasn't good enough, or that I couldn't win a major, or when am I going to win a major," Ochoa said. "And I always have taken all of the comments and understood very well because I didn't win. I just think now it's a big step forward. I did it, and there's no more to say."

But she didn't pack it in.

She won her next two starts on the LPGA Tour and finished the season with eight victories, finishing out of the top 10 only four times.

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