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Golf - 28. February 2008.

Lorena wins round one of the Singapore Showdown



Tim Maitland in Singapore


The Mexican took a one-shot lead after day one of the US$2 million HSBC Women's Champions after shooting a near-faultless six-under par 66 at Tanah Merah Country Club. Perhaps more importantly, given the boldness of Sorenstam's stated intent to relieve her of her status as the top, she left the Swede trailing five shots behind.

Ochoa started with a drive on the first hole that blew 50 yards past her rival's. At the 497-yard par five ninth while Sorenstam waited for a ruling on a drive into trees, Ochoa comfortably found the green in two and made a routine birdie. Ochoa was four-under and had never looked like dropping a shot. Sorenstam was on level par.

At the tenth the 37-year-old winner of the season-opening SBS Open finally landed a clean punch – an approach to five feet and a sure birdie. Ochoa didn't even blink; a nine-iron to three feet, right on her opponent's line.

"It was a great day," the 26-year-old said.

"I'm really happy. It was one of those days when I was hitting the ball well and making good contact and I had a lot of birdie chances."

Bogey-free, the Guadalajara native made only one mistake of significance all day, a weak chip from just off the front of the green at the par-five 13th that didn't cost her a shot to par, but certainly cost her a shot in "Lorena golf".

"Well, it's why I took a few more weeks to practice. I am 100 per cent ready to go. You're always going to make mistakes; that's for sure. I made more than one mistake, maybe three or four bad shots, but I was able to make good up and downs and make good putts."

Ochoa's closest rivals are the in-form Paula Creamer, winner in Hawaii last week, and her polar opposite Ai Miyazato. The immensely likeable Japanese girl was a heartbreaking sight when the LPGA was last in Asia. At November's Honda LPGA Thailand she had lost control and belief in her driver so much that she was slapping weak tee shots 150 yards up the fairway. Even at the Hawaii events over the past fortnight it was noticeable that she was spending all her time on the range trying to find her swing, while the rest of the field were fine tuning their finesse game. Two missed cuts in Hawaii this month followed by a five-under par 67 here will have caused a lot of double takes, and brought smiles to many faces, including Ochoa's.

"I saw Ai on the board and I was very happy. She's one of my favourite players. She's always so happy and she tries to speak Spanish to me. I like her," she declared.

Ai, as she so often does, beamed with delight.

"The last couple of weeks I still played good, because my driver is working better than last year. I'm trying to build up my confidence a bit and I'm still working on it," said the 22-year-old, adding that she feels she is in the final phase of rebuilding her shattered game.

"I do feel I'm better than last year. I do feel I'm getting back to my normal state, faster than I expected."

Creamer, the yin to Ai's yang in the confidence stakes, continues to sparkle. Her fantastic final three holes at the Fields Open seem to have added even more strut in the stride.

"I hit a lot of good shots, some really good putts. I missed a lot of putts too, but the ones I holed were fairly big breakers and a couple of 15-20-footers. I feel good over the golf ball and I'm putting very well, which is also important. You need confidence on these greens because you have to hole a lot of big breaking putts. There's not many straight putts out there."

Amazingly, for someone who last week sported a sparkling diamante skull-and-cross-bones belt buckle and matching earrings as the finishing touch to an otherwise all-pink victory ensemble, she claimed her run of form is going relatively unnoticed on the under card to the Lorena-Annika main attraction.

"I'm kind of under the radar," she said.

As if!

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