Ochoa opens door for Sorenstam's fourth straight win

Monday, March 21, 2005

Annika Sorenstam won her fourth straight LPGA Tour start, making up four strokes in the last three holes and then beating Lorena Ochoa on the first hole of a playoff in the Safeway International on Sunday in Superstition Mountain, Ariz.

The victory -- the 58th of Sorenstam's LPGA Tour career -- was her second in two events this year and sixth in her last eight tournaments.

Sorenstam finished with a 2-under 70 to match Ochoa (74) at 11-under 277.

Sorenstam, the four-time LPGA player of the year and scoring record-setter, won her season debut in Mexico City two weeks ago, dashing the 23-year-old Ochoa's dream of a victory in her native land. It was more of the same this time, but with a twist.

Ochoa was 14 under to Sorenstam's 10 under after birdieing the 15th hole.

But it was a train wreck after that for the rising Mexican star, who won twice last year and had 16 other top-10 finishes, winding up third on the money list behind Sorenstam and Grace Park.

Ochoa double-bogeyed the 16th hole for the second time in two days and two-putted from 7 feet for a bogey on the 17th.

Sorenstam reached the green on the par-5 18th in two, lofting what she called one of the best shots of her career within 22 feet and two-putted for the tap-in birdie that sent both players back to the 18th tee for the playoff.

The unnerved Ochoa put her tee shot in a long, narrow lake on the Prospector Course's only water hole, and the conclusion never in doubt from there. Sorenstam was pin-high with her second shot again, chipped 7 feet past and made the par putt.

Ochoa didn't even putt for bogey after her attempt to save par with a chip from short grass left of the cup went 5 feet past, conceding Sorenstam's 19th final-round rally to win.

Sorenstam, the defending champion, was 18 under last year. This year's $210,000 first prize boosted her to $390,000 on the money list and sent her LPGA-record career total past $16 million.

Juli Inkster (72) and Soo-Yun Kang (76) tied for third at 8 under.

Liselotte Neuman (71) and Rosie Jones (72) were a shot back, with Michele Redman seventh at 6 under after an impressive 67 on a blustery day.

Michelle Wie shot a 71 to tie for 12th. Also in her group at 4 under were Jennifer Rosales (70), the winner in Hawaii last month, and Siew-Ai Lim (74), who shared the first-round lead with Ochoa.

PGA Tour

* Kenny Perry lost a three-shot lead in three holes, but emerged the winner in the Bay Hill Invitational when Vijay Singh hit 7-iron off the rocks and into the water on the 18th hole en route to a double bogey.

With Singh in the water, Perry went for the center of the green and lagged his 70-foot putt within 2 feet. He closed with a 2-under 70 and at age 44 became the oldest winner of Arnold Palmer's tournament in Orlando, Fla.

Last week, Singh missed a 2 1/2-foot par putt on the second extra hole in the Honda Classic to lose to Padraig Harrington. The Fijian made a spectacular charge at Bay Hill, with two birdies and a clutch par to erase a three-shot deficit and reach the 18th hole with momentum on his side. He finished with a 69.

The only consolation for Singh was replacing Tiger Woods at No. 1 in the world. With Woods chopping his way around Bay Hill to finish out of the top 20, Singh only had to finish fourth to return to No. 1 in the world ranking.

Perry finished at 12-under 276 for his eighth career victory, worth $900,000, and giving him loads of confidence coming into the first stretch of big tournaments.

The other consolation prize went to Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland.

He never seriously challenged for the lead, but the 25-year-old turned in a flawless final round that produced the best round of the tournament. He closed with a 6-under 66 to tie for second with Singh, which gets him into The Players Championship next week and likely will earn him a spot in his first Masters.

Champions Tour

Former California amateur star Mark Johnson won in just his 14th start on the Champions Tour, shooting a 1-under 70 for a four-stroke victory in the Toshiba Senior Classic at Newport Beach, Calif.

The 50-year-old Johnson, the qualifying tournament winner known as the "Beer Man" because he drove a Budweiser truck for 18 years before turning pro, had a 13-under 200 total on the Newport Beach Country Club course.

Johnson, who earned $247,500, eagled the par-5 15th and 18th holes in an up-and-down final round that included two birdies, three bogeys and a double bogey. He began the day with a three-stroke lead over Keith Fergus after shooting a 63 on Saturday.

Fergus (71) and Wayne Levi (70) tied for second at 9 under, and first-round leader Gil Morgan (70), Don Pooley (65) and John Bland (69) followed at 8 under.

European Tour

England's Paul Casey made a 20-foot birdie putt on the second hole of a playoff with Ryder Cup teammate Paul McGinley of Ireland to win the TCL Classic at Sanya, China.

Casey, a four-time winner on the European tour, closed with a 6-under 66 and McGinley had a course-record 63 to finish regulation at 22-under 266.

Thailand's Chawalit Plaphol (67), South Korea's Kang Wook-soon (65) and Denmark's Thomas Bjorn (66) tie for third at 21 under. Scotland's Colin Montgomerie (68) finished sixth at 20 under. He needed a top-two finish to move into the top 50 in the world ranking and earn a spot in The Players Championship.

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