Ochoa gains eligibility to Hall of Fame with rousing triumph

MORELIA, Mexico -- Lorena Ochoa wasn't distracted when the fans chanted her name on only the second hole. She stayed focused on her game, even as the crowd grew to thousands by the end of the day.

But by her last stroke on the 18th hole Sunday, the emotions were too much. The Mexican star had just won her third straight tournament and qualified for the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame, all at home, surrounded by family, friends and fans. She was overcome.

"I did fine, but once I was on 18, and had a short putt, everything came into my head," she said. "I'm glad I had a short putt."

That's when the crowd went crazy. Shouts, whistles, songs, they all echoed in the mountain valley. Ochoa held up the Mexican flag, and was sprayed with champagne. A sign hung from a clifftop home read: "Super Lorena," with the insignia of Superman.

This was no ordinary tournament win. This was Mexico celebrating one of its finest.

Ochoa didn't just win the Corona Championship. She claimed the victory by 11 strokes for her fourth win in five starts this year.

The Mexican star became the second-youngest player to qualify for the Hall of Fame, though she still must be a tour member for 10 years -- in her case, until 2012 -- to be eligible for induction.

"It was very special to do it here in my home country," Ochoa said after earning the 27th and final point needed to qualify for the Hall of Fame.

The LPGA Tour had previously said incorrectly that Ochoa would be the youngest to qualify at 26 years, 4 months, 29 days. But the youngest was actually Karrie Webb, who was 25 years, 7 months, 2 days when she qualified at the 2000 U.S. Women's Open.

The tour awards a point for every victory and major award and two points for a major victory.

Ochoa said she was honored to be among players she has always admired.

"They are my motivation, and when I played college, I always looked up to them and I wanted to be like them, so just to be part of that group is a very special feeling," she said.

After opening with three straight 7-under 66s, Ochoa closed with a 69 for a 25-under 267 total. She earned $195,000 for her 21st victory on the LPGA Tour.

It also was her second win in three years on the rugged Tres Marias course, a par-73 layout carved into a mountain valley in western Mexico.

After winning eight times last year, Ochoa opened the season with an 11-stroke victory in the HSBC Champions in Singapore, tied for eighth in the MasterCard Classic at Bosque Real in the tour's first Mexican event of the year, then successfully defended her Safeway International title with a seven-stroke romp. Last week, she won the Kraft Nabisco Championship by five strokes for her second straight major victory.

Ochoa had a seven-stroke lead entering play Sunday. She birdied the first, sixth and eighth holes, but dropped three strokes with a triple bogey on the 11th hole. She came back with birdies on the 13th, 14th, 16th and 18th holes.

She had described her play at the tournament as among her best.

"It was an amazing week," she said.

South Korea's Song-Hee Kim (72) was second at 14 under.

Ochoa has brought thousands of players to the game in Mexico, where it was traditionally played mostly by super rich Mexican men and vacationing foreigners.

Those who followed her play this weekend showed that her success translates across age, gender and even economic lines. She was trailed by small children carrying plastic golf clubs and women in 3-inch high heels and matching designer handbags. Even course employees collecting trash would pause and watch in awe as she passed.

Monica Garcia, 30, and her husband, Luis Ortiz, were among the crowd and described themselves as "Lorena fanatics." They bring their two children to watch her play each year at Tres Marias.

"She's a role model for all Mexicans," Ortiz said.

"And even more so for women," added Garcia, her family's only golf player. "She makes you believe you can do anything you want and be the best at it."

Ochoa was thankful for the support, spending time signing autographs and stopping in the middle of a news conference to acknowledge a group of fans. She savored her homecoming Sunday, kissing her trophy as she was serenaded by a mariachi band. Several times, she put her hand on her chest and looked around in wonder. She seemed to fight back tears.

"This is a best I have ever felt, and it gives me goose bumps," she said. "It feels very nice."

But, before long, she was focused again on the game. Asked how she would celebrate, she said: "I'm going to go home, right now. I need to unpack and pack because tomorrow I leave to Orlando at 9 a.m. [for the Ginn Open]."