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Ochoa has become major force on LPGA Tour

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. - Eleven months ago, the only thing most folks wanted to know about Lorena Ochoa was when she was finally going to get a major championship.

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. - Eleven months ago, the only thing most folks wanted to know about Lorena Ochoa was when she was finally going to get a major championship.

Even when you're winning virtually everything else, starting 0-for-23 in the four events that define careers does make for good water-cooler talk.

Now, after going 2-for-the-last-2 while continuing to own most of the other weeks as well, the golf world is left to wonder when she will ever lose another.

The 26-year-old Mexican export, an absolute hero in her homeland, is the only golfer who can still nab a grand slam this year. Sorry, Trevor Immelman. The second major of her season, the McDonald's LPGA Championship, tees off today at Bulle Rock Golf Course. Ochoa has finished no worse than ninth in the past 4 years. And no better than fifth.

She withdraw before the start of last week's tournament in South Carolina to visit her sick uncle in Mexico, who died just days after she arrived. But she has won six of her nine starts in 2008, including the Kraft Nabisco Championship in early April. To go with the British Open she won last August. After the Kraft, she said all four in a row was possible. Nothing's happened to change her mind.

"My game is where I would like it to be," she said. "So I do like my chances.

"[But] it's never easy."

She merely makes it look that way.

"I'm back, and I'm very motivated," she went on. "We are a very close family. I really want to play good [for them]. Of course, [last week] was very tough. In a way, I feel at peace. It was good to have a little bit of a break and just relax and get away from golf a little bit and try to see everything in a positive way and be ready on Thursday . . .

"I'm going to make sure I give it a good try. I don't want to put any extra pressure on myself, and I don't want to talk too much about it. I'm just going to take it like any other tournament, like I always do. If I play like I can win, I'm going to take it 1 day at a time and hopefully be in good position on Sunday and go from there.

"It's more important now for my family. I'd love to give them some joy. I want to break a few records."

Sure sounds like a plan.

Ochoa has obviously become the poster woman for the LPGA Tour, succeeding her role model, Annika Sorenstam, who just announced she is retiring at the end of this season. The ascension comes with a wealth of perks, and even more responsibilities, a fact that's not lost on the new and future No. 1.

"It's part of the package," Ochoa acknowledged. "I always do it with a smile on my face, and I think it's part of everything. If you want to win, there are a lot of things that come together. I'm just going to try to deal with things.

"It's a little bit harder, even more when I go to Mexico. If I win on Sunday, it'll be harder too. But it's good. It's like paying taxes, you know. Hopefully you pay a lot of taxes."

It's a big picture that took Sorenstam a while to become comfortable with. It just wasn't her personality. Ochoa was able to observe that evolution, and put the lessons to use. In her position, you seek any available edge.

She insists she wasn't afraid of the challenges. Or the changes they would create in her life.

"I think it's been a process," she explained. "I was prepared.

"When I won the British, my brother kept saying, 'People are becoming crazy here in Mexico.' When I went home, it was a circus. It was hard. [But] it's been good. I enjoy it.

"I think it's all about the experience."

She isn't surprised by her success. This is what she always envisioned for herself. And she intends to ride the wave for all she's worth, for as long as she remains driven. Like Annika, she doesn't plan on being on tour forever.

"I have a lot of faith [in myself]," Ochoa stressed. "When I was 12, 13, I made the decision that I wanted to be the best. Since that day, that's all I'm doing. Still, it's a funny process. You don't even [want to] think too far ahead. You just have some solid goals in the short term . . .

"I didn't [ever] like the feeling of losing."

Much has changed since last June. It's officially her realm. And as was the case with her predecessor, this could be some reign.

"Of course I was aware [I had no majors], and I had a lot of people asking [about it] in the media," Ochoa recalled. "But it never bothers me. I'm the one that knew what I'm capable of doing.

"I wanted to prove the opposite. I always said, 'Well, they're saying that because it's [true].' Until I win a major, they have the right to say that."

Better make that past tense. Full speed ahead. *