Ochoa eyes off first major at Pine Needles
BY Bruce Young | LPGA Tour | 2007 US Women's Open | Preview | 27 Jun 2007
The greatest event in the women’s game, the U$3.1 million US Women’s Open, gets under way at the Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in Southern Pines, North Carolina, this week with the world number one golfer, Lorena Ochoa, looking to not only win this event for the first time but also her first major.
Ochoa’s rise to the top of the female game has been meteoric when it is considered that she has played only four full seasons on the LPGA Tour but to be recognised as one of the game’s greats, as she will surely be, she needs to start accumulating major titles.
Two years ago Ochoa shared the lead with one hole to play at the Cherry Hills Golf Club in Colorado before finding the water from the tee, taking triple bogey and eventually finishing 6th which is still, by some way, her best finish in this event. Ochoa’s, at times, wayward driving works against her on the style of course set up by the USGA but she is too good a player for her class not to prevail before long.
The US Women’s Open was last played at this venue in 2001 when Karrie Webb blitzed the field to win by eight shots over Se Ri Pak. At seven under, Webb was the only player under par that week. The field will face a slightly stronger test this year with the course having been lengthened in 2004 and this year’s layout will be some 350 yards longer than was the case in 2001. It bears similarities to Pinehurst # 2 in its location in the superb sandy soils of the Pinehurst area and that it was designed by the great Donald Ross in 1928. Despite the revamp it received at the hands of John Fought three years ago, it retains much of its original character and is a fine layout and test for this quality field.
Ochoa arrives in fine form having won three times and been runner up on three other occasions in 2007. Her comeback victory last week at the Wegman’s event in Pittsford will have her in a great frame of mind for the event she, like every other golfer, wants desperately to win and she has perhaps her greatest chance to date to do so.
Karrie Webb will enjoy returning to a golf course that has great memories for her but she will need those memories to rekindle a game that is not at its peak at present. Webb finished 19th in this event in 1996 behind the winner that year Annika Sorentsam in what was her outstanding rookie season on the LPGA Tour. Her win in 2001 though was simply stunning. She has been on a roller coaster in much of the time since but right now she is not at her best.
What of Sorenstam? Since returning from a lengthy two month break to recover from a back injury, she has shown signs of removing the rust form her game and her 15th place at the McDonald’s LPGA Championship gives every indication that although not at her best she will still be some sort of force on a golf course where it will require class to prevail.
Paula Creamer is approaching the stage in her career where a win in a major is being anticipated. Her win in the opening event of the season in Hawaii has been followed by a series of good finishes and it will surprise if she is not in the mix somewhere on Sunday.
Morgan Pressel was just 13 years of age when she played this event in 2001 and earlier this year realised much of that potential by winning the Kraft Nabisco. The 19-year-old has continued on with several very good finishes since and after all but winning this event two years ago in Colorado she is well placed to challenge the more experienced campaigners.
Suzann Pettersen is undoubtedly the game’s most improved player in 2007. She was always good, in fact very good, but injuries have prevented her from fulfilling much of that which most knew she possessed. Her win at the McDonald’s LPGA Championship came just a month after her first LPGA Tour victory in Kingsmill and several other near misses in 2007 indicate that her win in Maryland was no fluke. The Norwegian is already developing a reputation for being a big event player and events certainly do not come any bigger than this one. No-one would be surprised if she was to make it two majors in succession. If she has a good week on the greens then Pettersen will hit it long enough and find enough greens to be a serious contender on Sunday.
Of the Koreans there are almost too many to nominate as chances but Mi Hyun Kim seems to be playing very consistently at present and although the length of this golf course will test her out, her accuracy will stand he in good stead.
The Australian challenge is headed by the aforementioned Webb but there are others whose recent performances suggest they are not without a chance of a good week. Lindsey Wright has finished inside the top five in each of her last two starts including when fourth at the LPGA Championship and Rachel Hetherington had a good week at the Wegman’s last week suggesting she is closing in on some reasonable form.
Wendy Doolan, Katherine Hull and the Gold Coast based Korean, Amy Yang are also in the field via final qualifying.