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GREAT TOURNAMENT. Paula Creamer won. � Now that we've got that out of the way, here's the headline from last week's SemGroup Championship: VICTORY ELUDES OCHOA. Or how about this: BROKEN STREAK IN BROKEN ARROW. � Anything but OCHOA LOSES. You don't call golf's hottest player a loser. � Admittedly, it was not Lorena Ochoa's week. Oh, sure, TIME magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world. And Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez praised her in the magazine for "her remarkable warmth and modesty," adding that Ochoa, at age 26, has already left an "indelible mark" as a humanitarian. And LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens gilded the lily, saying, "Lorena is a wonderful ambassador for our tour, a true icon in Mexico and a role model for women across the globe."
But Ochoa didn't travel to the Tulsa suburb of Broken Arrow, Okla., to build a school or start a golf program for children. She was trying to tie the LPGA record of five consecutive wins, set by Lopez in 1978 and matched by Annika Sorenstam in 2004--05. She was also trying to win her sixth tournament in seven starts and sew up her third straight Rolex Player of the Year Award while the tulips were still in bloom. And for those of us who scribble in notebooks while she talks, Ochoa was trying to fill the void created by Tiger Woods's injury layoff. (Doug Ferguson, the AP's golf writer, bailed out on the PGA Tour's Wachovia Championship to cover the SemGroup. That's like having Wolf Blitzer snub the Indiana primary to bring you poll data on the Taos, N.Mex., light-rail initiative.)
So you'll have to excuse us for shouting "Down in front!" at Creamer, the self-styled Pink Panther of women's golf, who beat Juli Inkster in a two-hole playoff to win her second tournament of 2008 and the sixth of her short career. (Note to Paula: You may need a stronger gimmick than pink outfits to get out of Lorena's shadow. Have you considered a photo shoot for Vanity Fair?) Call it Lorenamania, call it Ochoa Fever, whatever—she currently is, to paraphrase yet another magazine, one of the women we love.
Alas, things don't always go according to expectations. In December, for example, an ice storm descended on Tulsa, turning its urban forest into a pick-your-own-firewood festival. Cedar Ridge Country Club lost 300 trees and sustained major damage to 2,000 more—a statewide calamity that robbed the former U.S. Women's Open venue of its usual luster. Then, just when the gals got to Oklahoma, spring happened. Last Thursday's first round, played in southerly winds of up to 36 mph, produced an average score of nearly six over par. Ochoa shot a two-over 73.
The next day's wind, more westerly but nearly as stiff, induced six players to withdraw and kept scores soaring. The cut line of 10 over par was the highest for the LPGA since the 2003 Kraft Nabisco Championship, and Creamer, with rounds of 70--71, was the only player under par for 36 holes. Ochoa? For the first time in two years she played a birdie-free round, shooting 74, and for the first time since the 2006 Women's British Open she had two over-par rounds in a single tournament. That left Ochoa, who trailed Creamer by six strokes, in a tie with Oprah Winfrey, Tony Blair, Mia Farrow and Sheik Mohammed al-Maktoum in the Heroes and Icons bracket.
Oops, sorry. Those are the TIME results. Ochoa learned of her selection to the Top 100 list on, of all places, the LPGA's website. "It was a great surprise," she said of the honor. "I'm glad they pay attention to golf and what we accomplish out here."
Saturday brought a gradual diminishing of wind, and that had Creamer looking over her shoulder at Ochoa, who is a birdie machine when conditions are right. Lorena dunked a long birdie putt on the 8th hole and a short birdie putt on the 9th, and suddenly she was only three behind. But Creamer, trying to bounce right back from a playoff loss to Sorenstam in Miami, promptly made a birdie of her own. The gap was never that narrow again, and when the third round ended, Creamer's closest pursuer was not Ochoa but a 47-year-old hero-icon with a propensity for on-the-course theatrics. That set up an interesting Sunday duel between Creamer, who holds the record for youngest winner of an LPGA event (18 years, 11 months, 18 days), and Inkster, who if she had won, would have overtaken Beth Daniel (46 years, eight months, 29 days) as the oldest.
Ochoa? "I'm still positive," she said after her round of 71. "There's not too many players in front of me, and this is a tough course. Anything can happen."
It sure can. Sunday dawned sunny and warm with just enough breeze to rustle the emerging leaves on Cedar Ridge's misshaped trees. Ochoa, starting eight shots behind, failed to mount an early charge. The leaders, meanwhile, were tied at two under after an Inkster-friendly two-shot swing on the 7th, a dry run, apparently, for the really dramatic two-shot swing that sent the tournament into overtime. That came on 18 when Creamer—behind the green in two but enjoying a two-stroke lead over her friend and former Solheim Cup partner—chipped 12 feet past the hole. Inkster then stunned her pink prot�g� by holing an 18-footer for birdie.
The old lady—did we mention that she's 47?—threw up her arms and reeled like a wobbling top. That left Creamer, who had sobbed in the ladies' room after her Miami loss, needing to make her par putt to avoid a playoff.