For the record, '08 event hard to beat - East Valley Tribune: Sports

For the record, '08 event hard to beat

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Posted: Sunday, March 30, 2008 9:44 pm | Updated: 11:42 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

If this proves to be the last hurrah for the LPGA at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club, and Arizona in general, the tournament that has been held here in the Valley for 38 years certainly went out in style.

Ochoa breezes to 7-shot victory at Safeway International

SLIDESHOW: See photos from the final round

Read Bill Huffman's blog, 'Backspin'

Lorena Ochoa made certain of that with a record-breaking performance that punctuated just how good the Mexican superstar really is compared to the best of the rest.

In the process of blowing away the competition by seven shots, which tied the tournament mark for margin of victory set by Anne Marie Palli in 1983, Ochoa became the fourth player to repeat as champion.

A record-breaking crowd of 44,600 fans also contributed mightily to the former University of Arizona star's victory party, and boosted the attendance to 159,300 for the week. That eclipsed the 151,100 fans that turned out last year.

Although the LPGA doesn't keep attendance records, it was believed to be the largest single-day and weekly turnouts ever in women's golf, dating back to 1950 when the LPGA was founded.

It also left everybody wondering why Safeway is bailing, and why no title sponsor has stepped forward to grab the golden goose. It is a question that might not be answered - one way or another - for months.

Ochoa, 26, always the optimist, said she was going to ask her sponsors if they would be interested in stepping up. She laughed when someone suggested it was the only way she could possibly three-peat.

"I think it will be back,'' she said. "I know that I would love to be back.''

That goes double for her fans, who as they did a year ago, serenaded her in the aftermath with "Viva Lorena'' while waving the Mexican flag.

If ever there was a tournament that epitomized Ochoa's career, it is - was? - the Safeway International, where she broke down and cried after losing a playoff to Annika Sorenstam in 2005, and then learned how to win with convincing victories the past two years.

Ochoa's 6-under-par 66 in the final round and 21-under 266 total turned out to be a cakewalk, and buried the previous mark of 270 at Superstition Mountain she had shared with Sorenstam. Not surprisingly, it wasn't close to Sorenstam's tournament-record 261 the Swede set in 2001, the year she shot the one-and-only 59 at Moon Valley Country Club.

"It was a great day, especially the back nine,'' explained the No. 1 player in the world, who led by seven shots with three holes to play. "The front nine was a little more up and down, but I told myself, 'Just be patient.' "

The last nine holes came so easy that Ochoa admitted she and her caddie began keeping track of her drives compared with that of her playing partner, South Korea's Jee Young Lee, who finished second.

Lee is long, but Ochoa was longer, at one point driving the green at the 310-yard 14th hole with a little help from the wind. Asked who prevailed in the driving contest, Ochoa got a little sheepish.

"I think me,'' she said. "It was close all day but we were counting, and I got her by a few (drives).''

In fact, Ochoa's performance was so overwhelming that many observers think she now owns this tournament - if there is a tournament. Certainly no one has felt both ends of the emotional spectrum at Superstition Mountain quite like Lorena.

"What happened in (2005) really hurt me, but I learned how easily it was to lose a tournament,'' she said in retrospect. "I learned a few times the hard way.

"But that makes me who I am today, and I wouldn't change that for anything. It doesn't mean I'm not going to struggle again or have very bad times again or cry again. I'm enjoying my moment.''

Told she certainly couldn't cry after Sunday's sensational display in what was the last Safeway International - if for no other reason than a name change - she smiled again in that innocent way.

"Yes, I might (cry), maybe even tonight,'' she said. "I'm very sentimental.''

Hopefully, that history and tradition - and, yes, sentimental nostalgia - is a theme that organizers will be able to sell to a future sponsor(s).

"It would be a shame to lose this tournament,'' Ochoa said as she left the scene of her 19th victory. "If I can help them, just let me know.''

We will, although chances are Lorena Ochoa already has done more than her share to elevate its presence and perhaps secure its future.

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