Ochoa spoils Sorenstam's farewell

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The Independent Online

Saying farewell is never easy to do and Annika Sorenstam yesterday found it particularly difficult. A second 72 left the former world No 1 adrift in the final major of her career and perfectly encapsulated why she feels it is time to take her leave from the game she has graced for so long. That and the form of Lorena Ochoa, of course.

It seemed apt that at the same time as Sorenstam was hobbling down the leaderboard on level par that the woman who replaced her at the top of the rankings was making strides up the standings that were both ominous and eerily familiar. A four-under 68 took the Mexican to seven-under and within three of the joint-leaders, Yuri Fudoh of Japan and Ji-Yai Shin of Korea. In her own words, she is "in a position I like very much".

Fudoh and Ji-Yai are clearly fine players in their own right and there are plenty more in the vicinity, but already Ochoa looks the defending champion in waiting. The power this little 26-year-old can generate is extraordinary and the tremendous news for the galleries is that her coach, Rafael Alarcon, insists her swing is at its most productive when she is aggressive. In other words Ochoa is better when she is going for it.

The conditions on the Old Course yesterday dictated the players gave it everything, particularly on the 503 yard par-five 14th. Ochoa was one of the few to reach it in two and a two-putt birdie was the very least she deserved.

Yet Ochoa was not the only competitor who refused to let the wind win the day. Cristie Kerr, the impressive American, fired a 65 to move into contention at eight-under, while the game's poster girl, Natalie Gulbis proved she is so much more than that with a 67 that hauled her on to the same mark as Ochoa.

Alas, the home challenge fell away tamely. Karen Stupples, the 2004 victor on this course, is the highest placed on four-under but confesses it will take some effort from here to prevail. "I'll probably need to be 10 under for the weekend to win," said the woman of Kent. But then, anything is possible around Sunningdale.

Except perhaps a burying of the hatchet between the former Solheim Cup team-mates Dottie Pepper and Laura Diaz. After equalling a women's record by having three eagles in her round of 72, Diaz turned on the multiple major-winner who once went out with her brother. "I don't think I will ever do an interview with her again," said Diaz, referring to Pepper who now works for TV. "Dottie was a family member and now I don't even see her as a friend."

The bad feeling stems back to last year's Solheim Cup when Pepper labelled Diaz and her partner Sherri Steinhauer "choking freaking dogs" in a comment picked up by a microphone when the pair lost a match when two up with three to play.

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