December 27, 2006


Aiming high pays off for LPGA star Ochoa


Associated Press/Reed Saxon
Lorena Ochoa, of Mexico, watches her drive on the fifth hole in the first round of the Samsung Challenge at Bighorn Golf Club in Palm Desert, Calif. on Oct. 12. Ochoa learned at an early age to aim high and not be afraid to fail. She closed 2006 with a landslide victory as the AP Female Athlete of the Year.

AP Golf Writer

Lorena Ochoa learned at an early age to aim high and not be afraid to fail.
She was 12 when she trained six months to climb the snow-covered top of Pico de Orizaba, Mexico’s tallest mountain at 18,405 feet. When she was 5, Ochoa fell some 15 feet from a tree and broke both wrists, leaving her in a cast from her shoulders to her fingers.
“They said the doctor gave me magical wrists, some magic in my hand,” Ochoa said.
Those hands delivered sheer magic on the golf course in 2006 when the 24-year-old Mexican overcame past failures to win six times and end Annika Sorenstam’s five-year reign as the best player on the LPGA Tour.
Ochoa swept all the major honors on the LPGA and picked up another award at the end of the season with a landslide victory as the AP Female Athlete of the Year.
“That was my goal in January, just to be the best player on the tour,” she said recently. “I always knew I could do it. I think I’ve been raising my level of golf, and also more mature now inside the golf course and outside, too. It helps.”
She received 220 points in voting from sports editors around the country, double the point total of French tennis player Amelie Mauresmo, who captured Wimbledon and the Australian Open.
Tiger Woods was voted AP Male Athlete of the Year, the first time since 1993 that the male and female athletes came from the same sport (Michael Jordan-Sheryl Swoopes in basketball). And it was the first time since Babe Zaharias and Byron Nelson in 1945 that golfers swept the AP athlete awards.
Maria Sharapova, who won the U.S. Open in tennis, and Lisa Leslie, who won her third MVP award in the WNBA, tied for third with 60 points. Rounding out the top five were French Open champion Justin Henin-Hardenne and Hannah Teter, a snowboarding gold medalist at the Turin Olympics.
Ochoa has a passion for outdoor adventures, such as mountain climbing, and she brings a fearless attitude to golf. She has emerged as one of the most dynamic players, going after the flag every chance she gets.
“A lot of people get in that zone and they start freaking, but she just keeps plugging away, and I don’t know if you can teach that,” Juli Inkster said. “She doesn’t really worry about anybody else. She just tries to go as low as she can. That’s a great mentality to have.”
It was the fourth straight year a golfer has won AP Female Athlete. Sorenstam won the award the previous three years.
There was no inkling that stardom would shift in women’s golf at the start of the year when Sorenstam went to Ochoa’s home turf and won her first start of the year at the MasterCard Classic in Mexico.
And there was no indication Ochoa had learned from her past failures at the first LPGA major of the year at the Kraft Nabisco, when she lost a three-shot lead in the final round. But she showed her fight that afternoon, hitting a 5-wood over the water to 6 feet on the final hole for an eagle to force a playoff.
Karrie Webb won on the first extra hole, but simply getting into a playoff sent Ochoa soaring. She went wire to wire in her next start to win the Takefugi Classic in Las Vegas. The next two months, she finished first or second in six tournaments.
Ochoa poured it on at the end of the year.
She won for the first time before her home crowd in Mexico, then seized control of the points-based LPGA player of the year award with a momentous duel in the desert against Sorenstam in the Samsung World Championship. The Swede had a three-shot lead going into the final round, but Ochoa fired at flags and closed with a 65 to win by two.
“She has blossomed to become a great player,” Sorenstam said. “She is hitting the ball longer. She is hitting it straighter. She’s putting extremely well. It’s fun to see. She is such a nice person, and it’s nice to see good things happen.”
Ochoa grew up in Guadalajara and was 5 when she begged her father to take her to the golf course with her brothers. Three years later, she won the first of five straight titles in her age group at the Junior Worlds in San Diego.
“I don’t know if she was born with a little bit of desire and a lot of talent, or a little bit of talent and a lot of desire,” Kevin Hansen, the former head pro at Guadalajara, once said. “But it’s a combination you cannot believe.”
Intensely proud of her heritage, Ochoa reaches out to the Mexicans she sees at golf tournaments, many of them working on maintenance crew, all of them stopping to watch whenever she goes by.
“I’m very proud to be Mexican, and every time I see some Mexicans on the course, it could be the workers, or Mexicans that live here ... it gives me extra motivation,” she said. “It makes me want to do things better and play good for them.”
The only thing lacking from her stellar season was a major championship. But there is a feeling that will change soon.
“When you make those mistakes your first year or second year, you get them out of your way and then you make good things come,” Ochoa said.


Ducks keep rolling

By The Associated Press
Not even an injury to goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere slowed down the Anaheim Ducks. Sidney Crosby looked unstoppable, too, until he met Martin Brodeur and New Jersey’s tight defense.
After losing ailing players all day long, the Ducks scratched out a 4-3 victory Tuesday night in San Jose on Corey Perry’s go-ahead goal midway through the third period.
Anaheim began the game without center Todd Marchant and defenseman Sean O’Donnell, and defenseman Francois Beauchemin left in the second period with an undisclosed injury. Moments later, Giguere strained his groin when his skate apparently got caught near the post on Steve Bernier’s tying goal.
Giguere, the NHL leader with 23 wins, skated off gingerly before returning to watch the third period from behind the glass. He and coach Randy Carlyle wouldn’t speculate on the extent of the injury.
Still, the Ducks (28-5-1-5) won on the road against their closest challengers in the Pacific Division. Anaheim, which has a franchise-record 62 points in 39 games, hasn’t lost consecutive games in regulation during one of the greatest starts in league history.
“Coming back right after Christmas, guys had to dig down,” star defenseman Chris Pronger said. “We kept it simple, didn’t try to get outside ourselves. We had to bear down.”
That’s exactly what the Devils did against Crosby, ending a 10-game point streak for the NHL’s leading scorer in a 3-0 win over the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins.
Brodeur made 26 saves for his 85th shutout, passing Glenn Hall for sole possession of third place on the career list. Crosby had only two shots, both in the third period.
“Brodeur is one of the best ever,” Crosby said. “We had only a few chances and couldn’t take advantage. In a tight game like that, you have to take advantage of every opportunity. Every time we play these guys, it’s tough.”
Travis Zajac scored early in the second period for New Jersey, and Jay Pandolfo and Brian Gionta added insurance goals late in the third. Brodeur earned his fifth shutout this season, sending Pittsburgh to its fourth consecutive defeat.
“We played pretty solid,” Brodeur said. “We didn’t create tons of offense but we stuck to our game plan. We made sure (Evgeni) Malkin and Crosby weren’t a big part of that game.”
The win was only the third in eight games for the Atlantic Division-leading Devils, who ended a three-game skid on home ice.
At San Jose, Calif., Travis Green, Chris Kunitz and Dustin Penner also scored for the Ducks. Giguere blamed the Shark Tank ice and the NHL’s abbreviated post-Christmas travel schedule for his injury.
“It’s just tough to play a game that was, especially in a building like this where the ice is horrendous, where it’s humid and hot,” Giguere said.
Michael Wall relieved Giguere, but had to make just four saves in 231/2 minutes in his second NHL appearance. Perry broke a tie by deflecting Samuel Pahlsson’s long shot past Evgeni Nabokov.
Christian Ehrhoff and Patrick Marleau also scored for the Sharks, who have lost three of five on a six-game homestand. San Jose got a late two-man advantage when Pronger got a questionable penalty for putting the puck in the seats, but couldn’t score on a lengthy power play.
Sabres 6, Capitals 3: Chris Drury had two goals and two assists, sparking host Buffalo’s six-goal first period. Ales Kotalik had a goal and two assists for the NHL’s top-scoring team. The Sabres needed only nine shots to build a 6-0 lead with 9:03 left in the first.
Hurricanes 4, Panthers 2: Rod Brind’Amour scored the go-ahead goal 50 seconds into the third period and host Carolina won its season-best fifth straight. Cam Ward made 25 saves.
Islanders 2, Rangers 0: Rick DiPietro stopped 28 shots for his third consecutive shutout at home, and the Islanders got goals from Arron Asham and Jason Blake to send the Rangers to their sixth straight loss following a five-game winning streak.
Blackhawks 2, Stars 1: Denis Arkhipov and Martin Lapointe each scored a power-play goal, and Nikolai Khabibulin made 20 saves. The Blackhawks defeated visiting Dallas for the second consecutive time this season following a 15-game winless streak (13-0-2) that dated to March 2002.
Blue Jackets 5, Bruins 4, OT: David Vyborny scored his second goal with 1:54 left in overtime and host Columbus rallied from a two-goal deficit.
The Blue Jackets were skating 6-on-3 when Sergei Fedorov tied the score at 4 with his second goal of the game with only 23 seconds left in regulation.
Thrashers 2, Lightning 1: Jim Slater scored with 8.1 seconds left and host Atlanta also got a goal from Slava Kozlov in its fourth straight victory.
Maple Leafs 4, Wild 3: Jeff O’Neill scored with 2:18 remaining for the Maple Leafs, who ended a three-game skid and won for only the fourth time in 14 games. Minnesota is winless in its last nine road games.
Predators 3, Blues 2, SO: Alexander Radulov converted his first NHL shootout attempt for host Nashville, and goalie Chris Mason stopped four shootout tries by St. Louis. Paul Kariya had a goal and an assist, and Scott Hartnell also scored for the Predators.
Canucks 3, Flames 1: Daniel Sedin scored twice and Vancouver snapped Calgary’s franchise-record 10-game home winning streak. Trevor Linden also had a goal and Roberto Luongo made 26 saves.
Kings 4, Coyotes 3, SO: Sean Avery scored the tying goal with 38 seconds left in regulation, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown connected in the shootout, and host Los Angeles ended a four-game skid.


Ford among fittest presidents

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — His deliberate manner of speaking, some highly publicized mishaps and a recurring Chevy Chase bit in the early days of “Saturday Night Live” helped advance the notion that Gerald R. Ford was a bit of a bumbling stumbler.
In fact, Ford was one of the nation’s fittest and most athletic presidents.
Ford, who has died at age 93, played center on the University of Michigan football team, where he was a three-year letter winner. His teams enjoyed consecutive undefeated, national championship seasons in 1932 and 1933. He was the Wolverines’ most valuable player in 1934 and, on Jan. 1, 1935, he played in a college all-star game known today as the East West Shrine Game.
Michigan later retired Ford’s No. 48 jersey.
During a 1934 game against the University of Chicago, Ford became the only future U.S. president to tackle a future Heisman Trophy winner when he brought down halfback Jay Berwanger, who won the first Heisman the following year.
“When I tackled Jay in the second quarter, I ended up with a bloody cut and I still have the scar to prove it,” Ford said after Berwanger’s death in June 2002.
He also was the captain of his football team at Grand Rapids South High School and was an all-state center in 1930, his senior prep season.
Former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler, who died in November, told The Associated Press during an interview in August that whenever Ford visited Ann Arbor in his later years, he would call on the team and join the players for dinner at their training table.
“At practice he would say, ‘Bo, do you mind if I get in the huddle?”’ said Schembechler, who coached the Wolverines from 1969-89. “There was one rough-looking Secret Service guy that always was looking over President Ford’s shoulder.
“Once when the president was leaning into the huddle, the Secret Service guy was standing between the ball and the huddle, and our quarterback said, ‘What should I do?”’ And I said, ‘Run over him.”’
After graduating from Michigan, Ford turned down offers from the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers to play in the National Football League. said Don Holloway, curator of Ford’s presidential museum in Grand Rapids.
Instead, Ford went to Yale University to become an assistant football and boxing coach, with the hope that it would help him get accepted into Yale Law School. Ironically, his coaching duties delayed his acceptance until spring 1938.
In April 1942, Ford joined the U.S. Naval Reserve as an ensign and he soon became a physical-fitness instructor at a preflight school in Chapel Hill, N.C. A year later, when he began service aboard the aircraft carrier USS Monterey, his first assignment was as athletic director and gunnery division officer.
He was in good physical condition when he became president at age 61. While living in the White House, he swam every day, skied regularly and played golf and tennis better than most other presidents, historians say.
But on a number of occasions, Ford, while golfing, hit into the galleries that lined the fairways to watch him. News cameras captured at least one spectator being hit in the head by an errant Ford shot.
Bob Hope, a golfing friend of Ford, once quipped: “It’s not hard to find Jerry Ford on a golf course — you just follow the wounded.”
Journalists also reported when Ford tumbled while skiing, when he slipped and fell on some metal steps while getting off Air Force One in the rain in Austria and when he bumped his head on an airplane doorway.
Ford developed a thick skin during his 25 years in the U.S. House of Representatives but he never cared for the jokes about his clumsiness, Holloway said.
“I’m sure it had to be somewhat frustrating but he had the ability that every successful politician has and that’s the ability to laugh at himself and to laugh with others about himself,” he said.
In his memoir, “A Time to Heal: The Autobiography of Gerald R. Ford,” he bitterly recounted how a brief stumble recorded by a television camera turned into a national story.
“There was no doubt in my mind that I was the most athletic president to occupy the White House in years ... (but) from that moment on, every time I stumbled or bumped my head or fell in the snow, reporters zeroed in on that to the exclusion of almost everything else. ... (This) helped create the public perception of me as a stumbler. And that wasn’t funny.”
Ford was a little more game about the “Saturday Night Live” jokes in 1986 when he spoke at a symposium on humor and the presidency: “On occasion I winced. But on the other hand, Betty and I used to watch ‘Saturday Night Live’ and enjoyed it. Presidents are sitting ducks, and you might as well sit back and enjoy it.”
John Robert Greene, a Ford biographer and professor of history and government at Cazenovia College in Cazenovia, N.Y., said Ford got the erroneous image because he was the first president whose every public move was scrutinized by a post-Watergate press.