Ron Agostini

Ochoa: My turn, Annika

Move over, Annika Sorenstam. Make way for Lorena Ochoa.

In case you've been distracted by Tiger Woods' sheer brilliance or the avalanche of Michael Vick coverage, you may not have noticed what's happened in women's golf. Ochoa, 25, has chased Sorenstam from the center of the stage.

Ochoa, the pride of Mexico, stands only 5-foot-6 and weighs less than 130 pounds, but don't be fooled. She's been a steamroller this year on the LPGA Tour, and she's taken over No. 1 with an engaging smile and a firm hand.

Sorenstam, 36, will aim for her 70th career win this week at the State Farm Classic in Illinois, where she is the defending champion (Ochoa is taking the week off).

This year has worked out both good and bad for Sweden's best golf export.

Back and neck injuries sidelined her for two months last spring and caused her winless year. Then again, it was announced last weekend that she's engaged to Mike McGee, son of golfer Jerry McGee and the managing director of the "Annika" business brand. They haven't set a date.

Sorenstam has discussed starting a family for years, a goal that was sidetracked when she filed for divorce from her first husband David Esch in February of 2005. She's sending strong post-career signals, a prudent move for someone who will go down as one of golf's all-time greats.

Meanwhile, Ochoa, raised next door to the Guadalajara Country Club, filled the void left by Sorenstam. She's earned her holiday this week by winning the last three tournaments -- the Safeway Classic by five strokes last week, the Canadian Open and the Women's British Open for her first major.

That's six victories for Ochoa in 2006, giving her a record $2,891,590 in winnings to break Sorenstam's single-season record. Better still, Ochoa has become a fan favorite with her charisma and big-time game. Watch her as she flips her ballmarker in the air before she tucks it away. Clearly, she's enjoying her golf.

We'll see if Sorenstam can make one more push to the top. One thing we already know -- Ochoa is not going away.

THE SHAG BAG -- Beyer High senior Katie Canadas is one of 78 juniors who will tee it up in the Wal-Mart First Tee Open, to be held Friday through Sunday at Del Monte and Pebble Beach. Canadas succeeds fellow Modestans Julianna Uhrik and Marina Martinez, who've also taken part in the First Tee Open, a Champions Tour event. Craig Stadler, Peter Jacobsen, Tom Kite, Fuzzy Zoeller, Jay Haas, Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Nick Price and Bernhard Langer spice the field. Langer, who turned 50 on Monday, will make his Champions Tour debut. For tickets, visit www.thefirstteeopen.com or call 800-541-9091. ... Turlock's Sam Smith shot 71 and 71 at Riverbend near Madera and tied for fifth, two strokes behind winner Cody Slover, at the NCGA Valley Championship. ...

Fred Solomon, director of the Scratch Players Championship held two weeks ago at Del Rio Country Club, is negotiating with the Duke University golf course for next year's tournament. The Scratch Players usually is held the week before the U.S. Amateur, which will be played next year at Pinehurst (N.C.) No. 2. ... Lake Merced CC in Daly City and the nearby Olympic Club are reportedly in line to be the next two Northern California venues for the State Amateur. The state's top amateur tournament, which called Pebble Beach its home for decades, begins its NorCal and SoCal rotation next year at Lakeside near Burbank and Oakmont in Glendale. ...

Coming up: The Warrior Athletics Tournament, a Cal State Stanislaus fund-raiser, is Monday, Sept. 17 at Stevinson Ranch -- call Shannon Egleston, 667-3931, or Warrior Athletics, 667-3016. And the 17th Mother Lode Amateur Championship is Sept. 22-23 at Sequoia Woods CC in Arnold -- call 795-2141.

HOLES-IN-ONE -- Bill Gulick, Sonora, 130-yard 12th at Mountain Springs, Sonora, 9-iron. ... Ricky Heether, Ripon, 90-yard fourth at Jack Tone Golf, Ripon, wedge. ... Julie Conner, Atascadero, 110-yard fourth at Stevinson Ranch, 8-iron.

Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or 578-2302.

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