SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. -- In the sweltering heat of late afternoon, Lorena Ochoa kept a steady stride as she ran briskly along the fairways and pine trees, rarely taking her eyes off the cart path.
Constantly pushing herself to get stronger, fitter and better, Ochoa also is starting to race time.
The Mexican star is only 25, in only her fifth year on the LPGA Tour. But she can no longer escape the question of when the No. 1 player in women's golf will win her first major.
Surely, this would be the year.
"I'm ready," she has said at the start of each major, only to have something go wrong.
At the Kraft Nabisco, it was a quadruple bogey on the 17th hole of the third round. At the LPGA Championship three weeks ago, she never got on track, struggling to string together birdies.
The next chance begins Thursday at Pine Needles in the U.S. Women's Open, the biggest event in women's golf, and one that highlights Ochoa's failure in the majors.
It was two years ago at Cherry Hills when Ochoa, starting the final round an hour before the leaders, was on her way to a 68 that would have given her the clubhouse lead, a score that would have set an intimidating target. But the nerves kicked in on the 18th tee, and her tee shot was combination duck-hook and pop-up, nowhere to go but the water. She finished with a quadruple-bogey 8.
|Despite her No. 1 ranking, Lorena Ochoa is still winless in the majors. (Getty Images)|
Ochoa arrived in Pine Needles in good spirits.
She is coming off her third victory of the season, winning in a playoff for the first time in her LPGA career.
"It helps a lot coming into this week," Ochoa said. "Instead of being down and upset, I'm really happy and positive about my game."
If history is on her side, it's the fact that Pine Needles has crowned only the best as its champions. Annika Sorenstam won the Women's Open in 1996 by hitting 51 of 56 fairways for a five-shot victory. Six years ago, Karrie Webb won by eight shots at Pine Needles, making her 5-of-8 in the majors.