Memo to the LPGA:
You need to check the 17th hole of the Dinah Shore course. Send a guy out there
with a carpenter's level and a plumb bob. Get somebody in coveralls to search
for loose floorboards and exposed wiring. Test for radon. Because there's
clearly something wrong with the hole. It tripped up Lorena Ochoa last Saturday
during the third round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship in Rancho Mirage,
Calif., right when she was poised to win her first major championship and
dethrone world No. 1 Annika Sorenstam.
pennies; hire an arborist. It was a big eucalyptus tree, after all, that leaned
in and swatted down Ochoa's six-iron tee shot on the 173-yard par-3. That's how
sweet Lorena wound up in a sub-basement lie about 30 yards short of the
elevated, two-tier green--and if you keep receipts, check 'em, because the
grass down there looks as if it hasn't been mowed since Valentine's Day.
Don't get me
wrong; it was a hell of a tournament. The eventual champion, 18-year-old Morgan
Pressel, played bogey-free golf and passed eight players in the final round to
become the youngest-ever winner of a woman's major, and afterward all she could
do was fan her face with her hand and choke out one "Oh, my God!" after
another. And drama! You had Suzann Pettersen, the fiery Norwegian who had
nearly beaten Ochoa the week before at the Safeway International, stepping onto
the 15th tee with a four-stroke lead and walking off the 18th green, less than
an hour later, with a one-third share of woulda'-coulda'-shoulda'.
Even so, you can't
let one out-of-control hole decide your tournaments for you. Ochoa needed to
win a major to validate the widely held perception that she's the new
insuperable campeon de golf, and your bleedin' 17th hole got in her way.
Granted, this was
one of those throw-up-your-hands tournaments in which the leaders swoon down
the stretch and the trophy goes to someone who's been in the clubhouse for an
hour answering e-mails and thumbing through the Bulgari catalog. (Pressel, a
fast talker with more spunk than she can comfortably contain, hung around the
Mission Hills putting green and practice range while the late finishers
staggered in. She wisely resisted the temptation to whip out her BlackBerry and
text-taunt her rival, 17-year-old Michelle Wie, who missed the tournament due
to a wrist injury.)
This final round
produced a Who's Who of backpedalers. Third-round leader Se Ri Pak, a five-time
major champion trying to complete a career Grand Slam, bogeyed five of the last
six holes. Paula (Pink Panther) Creamer--who at 20 already has three LPGA
victories--shot a six-over 78 and dropped to 15th place. Catriona Matthew, a
Solheim Cup veteran with three previous top 10s at the Kraft Nabisco, missed a
short par putt on the last hole that would have forced a playoff. Any of them
would have traded final rounds with Ochoa, who shot 72 and tied with Pak, four
strokes--I repeat, four--behind Pressel.
O.k., you got me.
I wanted Ochoa to win her first major. But so did most of the fans at Mission
Hills. Ochoa's galleries were the biggest, and her fans were the loudest. She's
just a tiny thing, this 25-year-old out of the University of Arizona, but she
has one country, Mexico, wrapped around her little finger and another country,
the U.S., trying to remember why it wanted to build a wall along the border.
She's a guileless sweetheart. She's also the woman who won six tournaments and
$2.6 million in 2006, ending Sorenstam's five-year run as player of the year.
If Ochoa won the Kraft Nabisco, we were told ad nauseam, she would even take
Sorenstam's place at the top of the Rolex Rankings--which Ochoa conceded would
be a thrill, but nothing that she was pushing for. "I've been waiting for
five years," she said last Friday. "Two weeks, three weeks, four weeks
more is not a problem."
The threat of
being deposed should have stirred up Sorenstam, whose 2006 output was a
relatively meager three wins and five seconds--one of the wins being her third
U.S. Women's Open title. Instead, she hit it crooked and opened with rounds of
75--76. That barely got her past the 36-hole cut and landed her in the bracket
of pros who start their weekend rounds on the 10th tee. "I just can't get
the spark to glow," the 36-year-old Sorenstam told the Los Angeles Times.
"I'm as puzzled as I can be."
The stage was set,
then, for Ochoa to take over. She shot 69--71 to share the halfway lead with
Creamer, and through 16 holes of round three she was barreling along at three
under, one off the lead. That's when--and I don't say this lightly--some
knucklehead let her play the 17th, a hole that should be condemned. First there
was the interference by the tree, and then Ochoa hit a lob from the rough that
landed on a green that probably hadn't gotten any moisture since Sergio
Garc�a's last visit. Her ball bounded into more rough behind the green, and
from there she needed two swings to extract it, the clubhead sliding right
under the ball on her first effort. Unfortunately, that fourth shot nudged
Ochoa's ball past the flagstick and back down the slope to the green's lower
tier. From there she three-putted for a quadruple-bogey 7.
I don't know if
church bells tolled in Mexico, but up at the 18th green the sight of Ochoa's
name being taken off the leader board triggered a collective groan. "Well,
yes, I'm human," she said later, "and a lot of things