Will Ochoa remain No. 1 throughout the entire season?

Originally Published: February 13, 2008
ESPN.com/GolfDigest.com

The Rolex Rankings, the first-ever world ranking system for the women's professional level, were first introduced in February 2006.

To nobody's surprise, Annika Sorenstam debuted as the No. 1-ranked player -- a position she held for the first 14 months the list was in place.

On April 23, 2007, though, Sorenstam was finally knocked from her perch. In the midst of what would be an 8-win season on the LPGA, Lorena Ochoa became the second player to hold the top spot in the Rolex Rankings.

Ochoa hasn't deviated from that placement in the 10 months since, but on the eve of the LPGA season opener, we asked our experts whether that will remain true through the end of 2008.

FACT OR FICTION?


Someone will challenge Lorena Ochoa for No. 1 in the world this year.

Bob Harig, contributor, ESPN.com: FICTION.
There are plenty of talented players on the LPGA Tour who can challenge Lorena Ochoa any week of the year. Suzann Pettersen and Annika Sorenstam immediately come to mind. Karrie Webb, Paula Creamer and Se Ri Pak are all capable of a Player of the Year type season.

But Ochoa has a Tiger Woods-type lead in the Rolex Rankings; she has more than double the points and double the average ranking score of Pettersen, who is barely ahead of Sorenstam.

Sure, a player could win a couple of majors, win seven or eight tournaments and make a huge leap. And yet, it is hard to imagine Ochoa not winning her share of tournaments and posting a number of high finishes. She did win eight times last year and has 14 victories over the past two seasons.

Ochoa will have plenty of competition this year, but don't expect anybody to threaten her No. 1 ranking.

Jason Sobel, golf editor, ESPN.com: FICTION.
Ochoa will not only still be the top-ranked player at the end of the year, she'll hold the position by a wider margin over the next closest competitor than she does right now. Remember, it wasn't so long ago that LoCho was having trouble closing out tournaments, even earning the undesirable nickname O-choke-a after a run of final-round miscues. But in 2007, she put all that behind her, taking eight LPGA titles -- including her first major at the Women's British Open -- while demolishing the all-time single-season earnings record.

In professional golf, winning is a learned skill, and Ochoa has certainly overcome past struggles in becoming the game's most dominant player. Now that she's gotten a taste of such success, don't be surprised if it only increases in coming years. After all, when a player leads the tour in greens in regulation and putts per greens in reg -- as Ochoa did in '07 -- it's a deadly combination. Add in her killer instinct on Sunday afternoons and you have a player who won't be caught anytime soon.

Ron Sirak, executive editor, Golf World: FACT.
It will be an old familiar face. Annika Sorenstam is coming out of the box playing five of the first six tournaments -- including the first two in Hawaii that Ochoa is skipping. The Swede is still only 37 and she is healthy after last year's ruptured disc in her neck -- and hungrier than she has been in a long time, if not ever. Going winless on the LPGA last year for the first time since 1994 did not set well with Sorenstam. She's penciled in her wedding date for April 2009, and that means 2008 is going to be all about golf.

Whether or not Ochoa is catchable is another question all together. In addition to winning 14 times the past two seasons, she has finished in the top-10 a total of 41 times in 50 starts, which means she is picking up Rolex Rankings points even when she is not winning. For Sorenstam to make a serious run at Ochoa she is going to need a half-dozen victories, including a couple of major championships. I saw her win 43 of the 104 LPGA events she played during a four-year stretch -- from 2001-05 -- that was golf played as consistently well as it has ever been played. She's got one more of those years left in her.

John Antonini, senior editor, Golf World: FICTION.
Quite frankly, she has too big of a lead in the Rolex Ranking to be caught, and she is bursting with confidence and working hard to get even better. Ochoa spent two hours a day on the putting green in preparation for the 2008 season, nearly an hour more than she spent with the flatstick in previous years. She wants to make herself better in crunch time, working on making her putting stroke shorter and tighter.

She still has a nagging tendency to give away tournaments in crunch time -- witness a 77 in the final round at the Ginn a year ago, and she made bogey on the 17th hole at the U.S. Women's Open to lose to Cristie Kerr by 2 strokes. Phil Mickelson has done the same, but that's where her similarities to the left-hander end. Ochoa's eight victories in 2007 equaled Tiger Woods' production on the men's side. Like Woods, she'll be No. 1 for quite a while.