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EDINA, Minn. – A rock concert broke out at Torrey Pines a couple weeks ago during the U.S. Open. Even Bono and The Boss couldn’t top the show Tiger staged on the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean.
There’s one problem, however. The game’s marquee frontman is stuck backstage, out for the year with a bum knee, unable to give an encore performance.
And while Tiger’s triumph will be a tough act to follow, the spotlight is shining brightly on this week's U.S. Women's Open, and Lorena Ochoa is more than happy to grab the microphone.
“I think it’s a good opportunity for us to get more fans so they can really see what we are all about,” Ochoa said. “There are still people out there that don’t believe we have the game or the shots or the excitement.
“(Without) Tiger, the ratings go down. Hopefully they turn to us.”
In the world of rock stars, it’s tough comparing Ochoa to Madonna or Beyonce (or to Dora the Explorer, for that matter, as the Minneapolis Star Tribune did today). She’s simply, “Lorena.” She doesn’t have anything to prove or need anyone to emulate. Just five months into this world tour, the best female player on the planet is hitting every note.
Ochoa has won six of 11 tournaments this year, including a major at the Kraft Nabisco. She’s finished outside of the top 10 only once, and she set an LPGA record as the fastest to earn $2 million. Her average victory margin this year has been 6.3 strokes.
Yet, there’s one show she has yet to headline – the U.S. Women’s Open.
She’s come close, finishing runner-up last year. At Cherry Hills three years ago, she was in contention until making a quadruple bogey on the 72nd hole to finish four shots back.
“Both really hurt me,” Ochoa said. “My life would be different today if I won a U.S. Open.”
Cristie Kerr knows the feeling. She had played 41 consecutive majors without a victory until last year’s Open at Pine Needles. After she won, the typically unshakable Kerr broke down in tears on the 18th green. Winning the biggest golf tournament in the world will do that you.
“It is different knowing you’re a major champion, especially the U.S. Open,” Kerr said. “It kind of makes you hungry for more.”
At 6,789 yards, Interlachen will play as the longest course in Women’s Open history. The greens are small and slick, most sloping from back to front. The rough is at a manageable height, as are the widths of the fairways. One player’s husband told me she thought 12 under could win. And while I hardly think that number will be reached here this week, it does emphasize just how many players could be within striking distance come late Sunday afternoon.
And what a finish that could be. The 530-yard, par-5 18th at Interlachen was made famous during the second round of the 1930 U.S. Open, when it was played then as No. 9. After finding the fairway off the tee, Bobby Jones skulled his second shot, skipping it across the pond that juts out into the fairway. The ball cleared the water and stopped short of the green. Jones chipped on and made birdie. Two days later he won the third leg of his Grand Slam.
No players this week have been seen during the practice rounds going the lily pad route, but many are saying that it’s reachable and to expect eagles.
(Sound like another 18th hole from a couple weeks ago?)
Ochoa muscled a 3-wood onto the green Tuesday. Suzann Pettersen used 5-wood. Michelle Wie hit 3-wood off the tee and 5-wood in. For anyone thinking about laying up, the sliver of fairway to the left of the pond is skinny and sloped. This is a hole begging for a magical ending.
And look no further than someone on her farewell tour who could provide that spark.
Annika Sorenstam is here playing in her final Women’s Open before she ends her competitive career. She’s played in this event 15 times, and is just one of four players to have won it three times. She spoke today of how much the event has meant to her, saying when she was a little girl, she practiced 3 footers pretending they were to win the U.S. Open.
And while she maintained she’s trying not to think of this week as a last hurrah, when Sunday afternoon comes, the moment will hit her.
No doubt there will be a standing ovation.