- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 11, 2009

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. | Most of the golfers in the LPGA Championship spent the last three weeks honing their game in tournaments or hitting thousands of balls on the practice range.

Lorena Ochoa wasn’t one of them. She took a vacation.

Ochoa last played in a competitive round of golf May 17, when she shot a 73 to finish tied for 19th in the Sybase Classic. The top-ranked player in the world then took a few days off before working for about a week with longtime teacher Rafael Alarcon in Guadalajara. After that, she spent a week in Mexico City promoting tourism for her native country.

That may not be the best way for some to prepare for the second major on the LPGA Tour, but Ochoa said it helped her get ready for the 72-hole tournament that begins Thursday.

“It was actually a busy three weeks,” Ochoa said. “But it was the right time to be at home, get good practice and be here 100 percent.”

It’s not as if her game was need of repair. Despite playing in only eight of 11 tournaments, the 27-year-old Ochoa ranks third on the money list in 2009 and has won twice.

After winning 15 events the previous two years, Ochoa is a bit off the pace in 2009. Since joining the tour in 2003, however, she has amassed $13,890,414 — third most in LPGA history.

So if Ochoa decides to take three weeks off in the middle of the season, who can argue the logic?

“Lorena, she knows what she’s doing. She wanted to do what she planned,” said In-Kyung Kim, who’s coming off a victory last week in the State Farm Classic. “My plan was to play before this tournament. It helps me with confidence this week.”

There’s something to be said for being on a roll, but Ochoa is still considered to be among the favorites at this tournament’s final stand at Bulle Rock Golf Course.

“Obviously you can’t overlook the No. 1 player in the world, Lorena,” said Angela Stanford, who has six top-10 finishes this year.

Ochoa isn’t at peak form yet, but it may not be long before that happens.

“I want to be 100 percent in the summertime when we have some big tournaments. I’m getting there,” she said. “I don’t want to say I’m in the best shape ever right now, because it’s not true. But I’m making improvements.”

Handicapping this tournament is nearly impossible because Ochoa is the only two-time winner on the tour this year. Gone are the days when Annika Sorenstam would show up and automatically claim the role as favorite.

“That’s the cool thing about our tour right now. It’s anybody’s ball game, anybody can win,” Stanford said. “That’s what makes it so interesting.”

McDonald’s is ending its sponsorship of the tournament after this year, so the LPGA Championship will be looking for a new home and a different sponsor for 2010. Sunday’s final round will mark the end of an era at Bulle Rock.

“I’m concerned,” said Paula Creamer, an eight-time winner on the LPGA Tour. “We don’t know where one of our majors is going to be. It’s a scary thought.”

Said Stanford: “I don’t know what the future holds, but I hope with the LPGA owning this championship, you would really like for it to be one of the top majors. That’s the way it should be.”

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