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Stone Closer
ALAN SHIPNUCK
April 14, 2008
Resolving once and for all any lingering questions about the reliability of her game, Lorena Ochoa finished with a flourish to turn a tight Kraft Nabisco Championship into a runaway
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April 14, 2008

Stone Closer

Resolving once and for all any lingering questions about the reliability of her game, Lorena Ochoa finished with a flourish to turn a tight Kraft Nabisco Championship into a runaway

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Moments later Sorenstam birdied the 11th to cut the deficit to four strokes, but she was unable to creep any closer. That Annika was even in the picture was testament to her heart, though certainly not her tummy. During the third round a stomach virus had nearly knocked her out of the tournament, and she was weakened to the point of occasionally having to lie flat on her back in the shade between shots. She somehow gutted out a 73 that included four birdies on the back nine. Feeling better on Sunday, she shot a 68, a score topped only by Ochoa. Sorenstam can betray the slightest irritation at having to answer so many questions about the woman who has supplanted her atop the world ranking, but she was gracious at the Kraft. Asked if she wished she had had one more round of good health to try to chase down Ochoa, Annika said, "I'm not really sure if that's enough. Lorena is playing really solid. She's moving forward every round, and she's not giving any back."

Before Ochoa, Sorenstam was the last woman to win back-to-back majors, and on Sunday she did nothing to quiet talk of a Grand Slam. "I think it's possible," said Sorenstam, who in 2005 won the Kraft and then the LPGA Championship but finished 23rd at the ensuing U.S. Women's Open. "Lorena is playing great golf—obviously you need to peak at a certain time and you need a little luck, but I certainly do think it's possible."

It may have been richly symbolic for Sorenstam to finish as runner-up, but because of injuries, Annika has not been a bona fide rival to Ochoa since 2006. Ochoa has carefully studied Sorenstam's reign and already figured out that she needs more in her life than golf. "I think for sure the most important thing is to have time for yourself and to be happy," says Ochoa. "That's the only way you can play good golf."

As has become her custom in recent years, Ochoa didn't touch a club in December, spending time with her close-knit family at her beach house in the tiny fishing village of San Juan de Alima. Though such hiatuses are much-needed, "she doesn't exactly lie around," says Ochoa's brother and manager, Alejandro. "Every morning she runs and works out, and then she water-skis and fishes." Ochoa has also found time for a burgeoning romance with AeroMexico CEO Andres Conesa, a dapper man several years her senior. "It is good she is dating," says Alarcon. "It is an important part of having balance in her life. Lorena's golf career exploded the last couple of years, and I think she felt a little overwhelmed by everything that came with it. Now she has things more under control and is more relaxed. Her mind is clear, and she is more able to enjoy her success."

It's hard to imagine any victory being celebrated more lustily than Ochoa's at the Kraft. She said at the start of the week that she had requested 100 tickets for the many friends and family who had road-tripped from Mexico. It sounded like an exaggeration, but on Saturday, Alejandro lamented that they needed 100 more. The boosters were part of a wild scene in the moments after Ochoa tidied up her victory. As she loitered on the 18th green for the trophy ceremony, a mariachi band provided accompaniment while the packed bleachers serenaded her in Spanish. Moments later it was time for a dip. Usually the champion is accompanied by only her caddie, but more than a dozen intimates joined Ochoa in what had to be the unruliest but most joyous leap in tournament history. "I woke up this morning, and I couldn't stop thinking of that jump in the lake," she said. "It was something that I've been waiting for for a long time." But even after her most satisfying victory Ochoa was already looking beyond the celebration, because she still has so much more to accomplish. "All of the Mexicans, they will drink a lot of tequila tonight," she said. "Not me. I need to be ready for next week."

Follow Lorena Ochoa's triumphant return to Mexico for the Corona Championship at GOLF.com.

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