Lorena Ochoa ready for another major move

To say that Lorena Ochoa has been playing poorly of late is a bit of a stretch — she was the LPGA player of the year last year — but she hasn’t exactly been the dominant force she once was and her grip on the No. 1 spot in the world rankings is slipping.

Ochoa, trying to rectify that situation with a strong finish at the year’s first major, got off to a good start with a four-under par 68 in the first round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship on Thursday at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage.

She finished the day one stroke behind leader Suzann Pettersen, who played bogey-free in pristine conditions. Karrie Webb is among a group of seven who shot 69, defending champion Brittany Lincicome had a 70 and Michelle Wie is lurking after an opening-round 71.

“It was a good day for sure,” Ochoa said. “It’s been hard the last few weeks, so, you know, I can only tell you that I think it’s a great start.”

Ochoa has placed 18th, 38th and 52nd in three events so far this year. She won three times last year, but that is far from the standard she set in winning 21 times from 2006-2008. Her lead on the world ranking list has slipped to only 0.65 of a point over Jiyai Shin, down from 5.12 points a year ago, leading to whispers that her reign atop women’s golf might soon end.

She said the Kraft Nabisco, a tournament she won in 2008 and opened 2006 with a major championship-record 62, is the perfect place for her to regain her form.

“I like being here,” she said. “I look forward all year to being here and to be back.”

A strong performance against a leaderboard as impressive as this one would solidify her standing. Webb, a six-time major winner, is No. 8 in the world. Yani Tseng, who also shot 69, is No. 6.

Cristie Kerr, No. 5 in the world, is four shots out of the lead after a 71 and is tied with a host of former Kraft Nabisco champions including Grace Park, Morgan Pressel and Pat Hurst.

And then there is Pettersen, who at No. 4 in the world is one of the players nipping at Ochoa’s heels. She breezed through a bogey-free 67 on a day when cold and wind had been forecast, but sunshine and still air prevailed. Pettersen said she hit every fairway and 16 greens in regulation.

“Very stress-free golf today,” she said.

That wasn’t the case last week when Pettersen tied for 52nd at the Kia Classic as she was working her way back from a mysterious hip injury.

She finished second and third in the first tournaments of the year in Thailand and Singapore, respectively, but said she went three weeks without playing after the injury — which at first went undiagnosed even after an MRI exam — flared up.

A cortisone shot cleared up the pain, but it took another week to clear out the rust.

“I’m finding back the fine-tune I had before I went to Asia,” she said. “I just had to let the body heal and three weeks with no golf — that feels pretty brutal. … I thought I was going to have two solid weeks of practice; it turned out to be two solid weeks on the couch.”