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Ochoa heads to U.S. Open as golf's brightest light

Don't know if you've noticed, but there's another Tiger Woods out on the Tour. Except this one is 5-foot-6 and wears a bra.

Lorena Ochoa is Tiger without the red on Sundays. She's fluent in three languages: Spanish, English and Kicking Your Butt. You need an El Tigre fix? Ochoa can get rid of those shakes.

I put nothing past Tiger. For all we know he might perform his own reconstructive ACL surgery ("Stevie, scalpel.''), be hitting stingers by the end of the next week and win the British Open on crutches. The guy is so amazing that when Google doesn't know something, it asks Tiger first, Tim Tebow second, for help.

But until Woods returns, Ochoa will do nicely. She is so Tiger in so many ways.

• Tiger's 2008: six tournaments, four wins (including one major), leads the money list.

• Ochoa's 2008: 11 tournaments, six wins (including one major), leads the money list.

• Tiger's past three majors: two firsts and a second.

• Ochoa's past three majors: two firsts and a tie for third.

• Tiger's workout M.O.: run, lift, get buff.

• Ochoa's workout M.O.: run, lift, do yoga, reduce body fat by 4 percent, compete in triathlons, half-marathons and eco-thons, have history of running 10Ks before 6:30 a.m. conditioning sessions with University of Arizona women's golf team, get buff.

• Tiger's appearances on Time Magazine's Top 100 Influential People list: one.

• Ochoa's appearances on Time Magazine's Top 100 Influential People list: one.

• Tiger's college conference: the Pac-10.

• Ochoa's college conference: the Pac-10.

• Tiger's charities include: The Tiger Woods Learning Center, which specializes in reading, math, sciences and technology-based programs for elementary school and high school students.

• Ochoa's charities include: The Lorena Ochoa Foundation, which funds La Barranca School (grades 1-6) in Guadalajara of her native Mexico.

• Tiger's good knees: one.

• Ochoa's good knees: two (though she does love to ski).

Anyway, now that Woods is on the DL, Ochoa becomes the closest equivalent to a golfing sure thing. The great Nancy Lopez, writing in the May issue of "Time," said it herself: "There's no way around the fact that Lorena, 26, dominates her sport."

Dominates it like, well, Tiger does on the men's side. In fact, you can make the argument that Ochoa has it tougher in some ways.

Phil Mickelson is what passes for a Tiger rival these days. Mickelson has game -- he's always had game -- but he's Wile E. Coyote to Woods' Road Runner. There's always another cliff to fall from, another hospitality tent to hit, another driver to leave out of the bag.

Mickelson has played eight more events than Woods this season and still trails him in '08 earnings by almost $2 million. In the world rankings, Woods is so far ahead on points that there ought to be a mercy rule. I haven't done the math, but I'm pretty sure Tiger could retire and still be leading the rankings five years from now.

Meanwhile, Ochoa has to deal with Annika Sorenstam, who just happens to be the best woman golfer of her time, and perhaps for the moment, of all time. Sorenstam (also 5-6 and a U of Arizona alum) is calling it quits after this season. She wants kids and a life that doesn't include lob wedges.

But that's next year. Right now, she wants to leave spike marks on Ochoa, but in a nice way. Sorenstam is the one who tied Ochoa for third at the recent major, the McDonald's LPGA Championship. And of the 16 LPGA events this season, Ochoa and Sorenstam have won nine. Paula Creamer, No. 3 on the earnings list, has won two.

Woods doesn't have Sorenstam-type opponents. Generally speaking, they turn into pudding mix when Woods and his Roman Legion-sized galleries show up on the first tee.

Don't get me wrong: They try. Mickelson is gifted, tantalizingly so, but do you think Woods fears him? Uh, no. Justin Leonard is tougher than a pine knot, but he isn't in Woods' subdivision. Geoff Ogilvy, Boo Weekley, Anthony Kim, Brandt Snedeker and Stewart Cink are radar-worthy, but they have exactly one major victory between them. And Sergio Garcia lost me during his whine-fest after he yakked away last year's British Open.

Maybe in the Tiger Knee Rehab Era one of these guys asserts himself. Maybe Mickelson rediscovers his game at Royal Birkdale. Maybe Garcia won't blame people who rake bunkers. Maybe somebody comes out of nowhere. But I doubt it.

This is why Ochoa is worth watching, especially now. She bombs it like Tiger (her average driving distance of 270.8 is best on the LPGA circuit). She scores like Tiger (No. 1 in scoring average). And she wins like Tiger.

The U.S. Women's Open begins this Thursday at Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minn. I'll watch because it's a biggie and because there's only one more Ochoa-versus-Sorenstam major after this (the British). History matters.

For some reason, I don't think I'll be alone. Wouldn't surprise me if a father and his daughter spent some quality time watching the tournament.

Tiger and 1-year-old Sam Alexis.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.