Monday, May 03, 2010

Ai Miyazato wins - but spotlight on Lorena Ochoa farewell

MORELIA, Mexico -- Ai Miyazato was fine moments after her third LPGA Tour title of the season. She only started to tear up when she began talking about Lorena Ochoa.
Miyazato shot a 6-under 67 on Sunday to win the Tres Marias Championship, but was overshadowed by Ochoa's last round before stepping into retirement to raise a family and focus on her charity foundation.
During the trophy ceremony on the 18th green, Miyazato broke down crying as she thanked Ochoa. Ochoa, a few feet away, also rubbed tears from her eyes in bright sunlight on the mountainside course. Ochoa choose Miyazato as her playing partner for the first two rounds.
"I want to say thanks to Lorena," Miyazato said. "I really appreciate what she did for the LPGA and what she did for her country here in Mexico."
"She is one of my best friends," Miyazato said, beginning to cry. "I'm going to miss her."
Miyazato, the 24-year-old Japanese star who swept the season-opening events in Thailand and Singapore after winning the Evian Masters last year in France for her first LPGA Tour title, finished at 19-under 273.
Stacy Lewis (66) was a stroke back, and Michelle Wie (68) was third at 17 under. Ochoa, the tournament winner three of the last four years, shot a 71 to finish sixth at 12 under.
Ochoa has held the No. 1 ranking since April 2007 but she will lose it when the rankings come out Monday, with Jiyai Shin taking over. Shin won in Japan on Sunday.
Michelle Ellis, president of the LPGA players' association, was one of several people who saluted Ochoa on the 18th green.
"She is going to be dearly missed by the players and all member of the LPGA family," Ellis said. "I think her heart and her spirit out does her golf game by 1,000 yards."
Ochoa won 27 tournaments, including two majors, and won the Player of the Year title four straight years.

"For the last eight years all of you have been there," Ochoa said, sobbing as she spoke to fellow players. "First when I got here everybody was friendly and welcoming. So thanks for being friends, for the inspiration. It is hard to put into words, but this has been eight years of a lot of fun and I made friends I will never forget in my life."
Ochoa found find time for everyone, even on the final day of her career.
Walking down the first fairway she stopped to kiss two young boys on the cheek who were carrying the scoreboard.
Approaching the second green, she stopped to embrace fellow player Christina Kim, who ran from the eighth green to hug her.
"I'm not going to be able to wait to see her when she finishes, so I wanted to do it here," Kim said.
Kim described Ochoa a few days ago as a near-saint in Mexico.
"I've been saying for years she going to be canonized one of these days," Kim said.
Elizabeth Arroyo and husband Jose drove three hours from the city of Guanajuato.
"Lorena is important for golf, but she is more important for the image of women in Mexico," Elizabeth said.
Dante Aleman, a 24-year-old selling ice cream, placed Ochoa up there with Mexico's best-known football players. He also acknowledged he knew little about her until a few weeks ago, reminding that golf is followed in Mexico by a tiny minority.
"She is famous for her achievements, but now there is more attention on her since she is retiring," he said.
All day, the crowds chanted "Go Lore!" or "You can do it!" Near the ninth tee hundreds of fans held up red, yellow, blue and pink cards spelling out "Lorena." Moments before she stopped just short of throwing her club to the ground when a poor chip fell short of the green.
As she walked up the 18th fairway, thousands began waving white handkerchiefs -- like they do at a bullfight to salute the bullfighter -- and shouted "Lo-Re-Na! "Lo-Re-Na!"
"This is pretty special," said Ellis, the LPGA player president.
Wie started the day a shot behind Miyazato but climbed into the lead -- one shot ahead of Miyazato and Lewis -- with an eagle on the par-4 ninth. Wie was 17 under, two strokes ahead of Miyazato and Lewis. But she fell to 15 under with a double bogey on the par-3 13th.
In the meantime, Miyazato began moving away. She birdied six of seven holes between No. 8 and 14 to move to 20 under.