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Ochoa has special memory of her major breakthrough

Special to The Times

SUNNINGDALE, England -- Here culminates the heady first year in which friends and relatives knocked on the Ochoa house door in Guadalajara and asked to visit not a person but an elegantly understated silver ornament.

“It changed a little bit, their priorities coming to the house,” said a grinning Lorena Ochoa, who won the British Open trophy last year at St. Andrews and triggered 12 months of curious visitors and sublime recollections.

So as this women’s British Open, 30 miles southwest of Central London, serves as the last women’s major of 2008, and the last major in the astronomical career of Annika Sorenstam (unless she goes all Brett Favre on us), it’s also the first major that cemented Ochoa as dynastic, a first major title she defends against 143 challengers through Sunday.

At the Sunningdale Golf Club that figured in both Bobby Jones’ iconic 66 during 1926 Open qualifying and Henry VIII’s gigantic yard, Ochoa, 26, will try to approximate “the most special round of golf I’ve ever played,” as she described the Sunday in Scotland last Aug. 5.

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“Well, of course Lorena is always going to be there,” 43-year-old veteran Helen Alfredsson said by way of prediction, and it’s logical given how Ochoa rode last year’s breakthrough -- her first in 24 majors -- to nine wins in 14 tournaments and another major title in the California desert between August 2007 and May 2008.

That run proved so compelling that even Ochoa’s recent finishes of T3 (LPGA Championship), T6 and T31 (U.S. Open) had the runaway No. 1 taking a month off and trying to rev up her short game before finishing fifth in the Evian Masters in France last week during Alfredsson’s first title in five years.

“After the [U.S.] Open,” Ochoa said, “it was a little bit too much for me. It was a good time to take a few weeks off and relax and rest and get back. I’m really excited right now.”

During relaxation, she said, she and her family often discussed the events of the Sunday at St. Andrews, when she arrived at the Old Course with a six-shot lead and won by four, becoming the first person since Tony Lema in 1964 to claim a first major victory at golf’s hometown.

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They’ve talked about No. 13, apparently, even if Ochoa can’t quite remember the hole: “It was raining a lot. It was very cold and I hit a five-wood to the green, I had like 175 yards and I had a huge putt, maybe the longest in my career, and it broke a lot and it was raining and I’m trying to keep my distance.

“I hit the best putt of my life, probably, really close, and two-putted for par.”

They’ve discussed No. 17, when she ventured into a pot bunker’s steep front and “everyone panicked” before she recovered with a sterling chip and a perfectly suitable bogey six.

Then she received a smaller replica of the actual trophy so that, among other joys, “People come to the house and knock on the door and say, ‘Can I take a picture with the trophy?’ ”

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This week on tour

LADIES’ GOLF UNION

Women’s British Open

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When: Today-Sunday.

Where: Sunningdale, England

TV: TNT, delayed (Today-Friday, noon-2 p.m.) and Ch. 7 (Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-noon; Sunday, 10 a.m.-noon).

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WORLD GOLF CHAMPIONSHIPS

Bridgestone Invitational

When: Today-Sunday.

Where: Akron, Ohio.

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TV: Golf Channel (Today-Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5:30-9:30 p.m.) and Ch. 2 (Saturday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.).

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U.S. GOLF ASSN.

U.S. Senior Open

When: Today-Sunday.

Where: Colorado Springs, Colo.

TV: ESPN (Today-Friday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.) and Ch. 4 (Saturday-Sunday, noon-3 p.m.).

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PGA TOUR

Legends Reno-Tahoe Open

When: Today-Sunday.

Where: Reno, Nev.

TV: Golf Channel (Today-Friday, 3:30-5:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 3:30-6 p.m.).

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All times Pacific

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Associated Press


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