May 17, 2004
FRANKLIN, Tenn. -- The pressure finally is off Lorena Ochoa -- both professionally and personally.
The 2003 rookie of the year won her first LPGA Tour title Sunday only hours after hearing that her older brother had safely reached the summit of Mount Everest, fulfilling promises they made when they last saw each other in March.
The 22-year-old Mexican star learned at about 4:30 a.m. that Alejandro, 27, had returned safely to camp. She talked with her parents by phone, sent e-mails to her brother and his girlfriend, ate breakfast and finally took a short nap.
Then she went out and shot a 4-under 68 for a one-stroke victory over Wendy Ward in the inaugural Franklin American Mortgage Championship, finishing at 16-under 272.
"I just knew I was going to," Ochoa said. "I felt very confident in the morning. I was just enjoying very much the whole day. I was very happy."
Ochoa, the first Mexican to win on the tour, had been close before with 13 top-10 finishes that included three seconds and three thirds. She was second last week after sharing the lead going into the final round.
Now the former University of Arizona star has erased all the questions she's been hearing in Guadalajara, Mexico.
"Every time I go home, they ask, 'When are you going to win? Why don't you win?' I'm finally just relieved for that, and I'm going to try to keep trying every week and hopefully getting better," she said.
The pressure actually eased with the news that her brother, who had caddied for her some on tour, had reached the top of Mount Everest and back to the first camp on his way back down the mountain.
"Climbing Mount Everest has been his dream for many years," Ochoa said before pausing to collect herself. "Before he left, we make a promise that I will win my first tournament, and he will get to the summit, so it was very special."
Ochoa already had been atop the leaderboard after shooting a 67 in the second round, and she protected her one-stroke lead going into Sunday by using her putter to answer every charge by three-time winners Ward and Pat Hurst.
She carded five birdies with her lone bogey over the final 30 holes when she pulled a 3-foot putt just left on the par-4 13th. She was better farther away as she rolled in birdies from 8 to 15 feet, including a 15-footer on the par-5 14th just after Ward bogeyed the hole when a wedge came up short of the green.
Ward closed with a 5-under 67 for a 273 total, while Stacy Prammanasudh (67) finished third, another stroke back. Hurst had a final-round 70 for a 275 total, good for fourth. Dorothy Delasin had a 68 and was fifth at 11 under.
Ochoa had a three-stroke lead going into the final hole, the par-5 18th that was one of the easiest scoring chances at 469 yards. Ward eagled the hole after hitting a 7-wood to 4 feet, then waited to watch the final group.
Ochoa didn't change her style and went at the green with her second shot, but the ball landed on the bank in front and stopped just short of the water. She easily chipped up to 15 feet and two-putted for victory.
"To finally seal it and get the monkey off her back, I'm sure she's really happy," Ward said.
Ochoa planned to return home Monday to celebrate with her family. She doesn't expect her brother home until mid-June.
"We'll see how crazy it is when I go home," she said.