- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2008

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md.

The LPGA Tour is lucky to have Lorena Ochoa. While the Ochoa Era of women’s golf already has begun, scrutiny of the 26-year-old Mexican is only going to intensify when Annika Sorenstam descends from the throne at season’s end and Ochoa officially becomes the face of the women’s game.

Fortunately for the LPGA, Ochoa is more than capable of carrying the tour, and that role involves far more than dominating inside the ropes. On a tour as relatively shallow as the LPGA, a charismatic queen is crucial. The men’s game is deep enough to survive tedious No. 1 players like Nick Faldo, David Duval and Vijay Singh. If the women’s game is going to continue to move forward in an overcrowded sports market, it must avoid similarly colorless blips.

Don’t believe it? Consider the present state of women’s tennis, a sport careening toward the Q-rating abyss courtesy of unremarkable play from a remarkably pedestrian cast of personalities.

Thankfully, Ochoa is nearly as charming off the course as she is dazzling on it. Like Tiger Woods in the men’s game, she understands her dual role as competitor and diplomat, even though her duties as spokesperson conflict somewhat with a mostly introverted personality.

“It’s tough, but it’s part of the package,” Ochoa said earlier this week. “I always do it with a smile on my face because it’s part of my job. … It’s like paying taxes, you know. Hopefully, you pay a lot of taxes.”

Louisville sluggers

Here’s a prediction: the United States will win the Ryder Cup this September, and it will win big.

Why? There are three reasons.

First and most importantly, U.S. captain Paul Azinger will be a much better skipper than Europe’s Nick Faldo. Normally, the United States is saddled with a captain its players respect but don’t particularly like. This time around, that lot falls to the Europeans, all of whom know how nasty Faldo can be when he isn’t polishing his new persona behind a microphone. Azinger loves to insert the needle, but he does it in the locker room, not on air.

Second, the Americans have a secret weapon developing in Kenny Perry. Not only is the Kentucky native so determined to make the squad that he has tailored his entire schedule around maximizing his points, but the 47-year-old vet has a solid history at Valhalla, nearly swiping the Wanamaker Trophy there at the 1996 PGA Championship.

Third, Europe’s stalwarts are struggling; Ryder Cup king Colin Montgomerie is floundering nowhere near the top of the European qualification tables. And dependable Ulsterman Darren Clarke hasn’t backed up his supposed turnaround victory at the BMW Asian Open last month. Faldo isn’t likely to use his wild card choices on floundering players, however experienced. Barring some serious reversals, the European team is going to be the greenest thing to hit Louisville since John James Audubon moved to town in 1808.

Out of the Woods?

It’s folly to question Tiger Woods, but did anyone else find it a little disturbing that he admitted in a conference call earlier this week that he had yet to play a full round on his recovering knee? Given that driving accuracy and distance will be at a premium next week at Torrey Pines, which will measure a major-record 7,643 yards and feature wicked kikuyu rough, it’s tough to envision a rusty Tiger triumphing. If Woods didn’t have such a dominating record at Torrey Pines, expecting him just to make the cut would seem more realistic.

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