Lorena Ochoa held off several pursuers to win the Sybase Classic Presented by ShopRite for the third consecutive year. The one-shot victory is her sixth of 2008 in only nine starts. Five players finished tied for second – Sophie Gustafson, Morgan Pressel, Na Yeon Choi, Brittany Lang and Catriona Matthew.
Starting early to get a jump on the approaching bad weather, a lot of players spent the front nine jockeying for position. Ochoa birdied 2 and 5 but bogeyed 9 to make the turn at -10. Christina Kim put up 32 on the front and when she birdied 11, she was -8 and within two of the lead. Pressel caught fire for the first time in weeks, with five birdies in a seven-hole stretch to join Christina at -8. One group ahead of the last, Lang treaded water (not literally) until she birdied 10 and eagled 11 to reach -9 and one shot behind. Playing with Brittany, Na Yeon had kept pace with Lorena with 34 on the front and a birdie at 12 brought her to within one of the lead.
As she seemingly always does when she is in this position on Sunday, Ochoa found a birdie early on the back – this time at 11, to go up by two. Though she could get no more, no one else could get within one either. Kim parred out to finish -8 and Pressel didn’t birdie again until 18 when she took clubhouse leader status away from Christina by reaching -9. Matthew birdied four times on the back and also finished -9. Lang bogeyed 13 and like Pressel didn’t get it back until 18. Choi was parring every hole but with four to go, she was the only player within two and appeared to be Lorena’s only threat. Na Yeon couldn't birdie any of the final four so -9 was her fate, too.
Gustafson was playing in the final group but she had carded 37 on the front to fall four back. Sophie birdied 10, 11 and 13 to reach -9 (two behind), shot herself in the foot with bogey at 14 but got it back with birdie at 16. With the win in reach, Lorena stumbled at 17 – the bogey cut the lead to one and suddenly gave five players hope of a playoff opportunity (at least).
18 being a par-5, Gustafson’s best hope was to birdie (or better) and hope for an Ochoa par and create a two-way playoff. Sophie only managed par and when Lorena did the same, the victory was Ochoa’s.
Even though I was rude enough to spoil the ending for you, I bet the tape-delayed coverage on ESPN2 will still be very exciting to watch. I’ll be back with a post-TV embellishment.
UPDATE: The operative phrase is “If X had only…” Each player near the top had at least one of those. If Sophie Gustafson had only made her eight-footer for birdie at 18, if Morgan Pressel had only canned one of those birdie chances at 15 or 16, if Catriona Matthew has only dropped that great attempt for birdie at 17, if Na Yeon Choi had only made her eight-footer at 18, if Brittany Lang had only not three-putted for bogey at 13 or missed from four feet at 14…
Ochoa couldn’t get up-and-down from a greenside bunker, resulting in the bogey at 17. Her tee shot at the par-5 18th went amongst the trees down the right side. She punched out, a terrific shot into perfect layup range. She flew her third past the hole and spun it back to within six feet, leaving herself two putts to win after Sophie missed her birdie.
That great third shot ended any chance at what could have been a six-way playoff. Back at 13, Lorena scrambled to save par after a horrible second shot from the thick rough. On the flip side, she missed from only five feet at 16 – a birdie that would have put her up three with two to play.
Much more to say, but I’ll save it for the highlights and Epilogue.