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Week off fails to slow ex-UA star Ochoa

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – A week off did nothing to slow down former Arizona Wildcat Lorena Ochoa, and a month away from the game found Lindsey Wright in the same groove she was in before a vacation.

Ochoa picked up where she left off in winning two weeks ago in her native Mexico with eight birdies against one bogey Thursday. Her 7-under-par 64 gave her a one-shot lead over Wright after the first round of the Michelob Ultra Open.

“This is only the start,” said Ochoa, a three-time runner-up in the event. “We have three more days. One at a time.”

Wright, a nonwinner in five seasons, hadn’t played since finishing fourth in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the season’s first major in the first week in April, but was bogey-free on the soggy 6,315-yard River Course at Kingsmill that has received rain for several days.

Hee-Won Han, Sarah Lee and Minea Blomqvist shot 66s to share third place. Seon Hwa Lee, Na Yeon Choi and Amy Yang shot 67s and 2007 champion Suzann Pettersen was among seven at 68.

In all, 45 of 144 players took advantage of the soft greens and broke par.

Other notables making a run at the leader board included 2005 winner Cristie Kerr, who got to 4-under but then stumbled to finish at 2-under 69; rookie Vicky Hurst, who got to 4- under but gave two shots back on her last four holes to finish at 68; and Michelle Wie, who got to 3-under after her first 12 holes, but had two bogeys coming in to finish six shots back at 1-under 70.

The rainy start and sometimes gusting wind seemed to be of little consequence to Ochoa, the world’s top-ranked player. She made three birdie putts of 17 feet or longer while working on her putting alignment and said she’s starting to feel more comfortable on the greens.

“That was a big change for me because I didn’t feel comfortable aiming to the hole,” Ochoa said of her old putting style, which had her coming across the ball instead of hitting it head on. “It didn’t feel right in the beginning, but now I’m seeing a lot of good results.”

She finished with a flourish, hitting a booming drive on the 382-yard, par-14 18th that left her with about 100 yards to the flagstick, and then an approach to about 12 feet.

PGA Tour

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Ben Crane should have known what was coming when he rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt on the first hole of the day. He kept right on pouring them in until he had a 7-under 65 and a one-shot lead in The Players Championship.

Crane made four birdie putts longer than 20 feet, kept his ball on land throughout another wild opening round Thursday on the TPC Sawgrass and wound up atop a leader board devoid of the biggest stars.

Tiger Woods couldn’t make a putt outside 4 feet.

Phil Mickelson ran off three straight birdies early in his round, then couldn’t keep the ball in play.

Defending champion Sergio Garcia opened with a 71 and already was looking forward to going home to Spain.

Crane couldn’t relate.

He had a one-shot lead over John Mallinger, Alex Cejka and Richard S. Johnson, with a large group at 67 that included Retief Goosen, David Toms, Camilo Villegas and Scott Verplank, who had two eagles – one of them from 150 yards out on the 15th fairway, another with a putt that seemed about that long on the par-5 second.

Woods opened his round with four straight birdie chances inside 12 feet and missed them all. He wound up with a 71, keeping alive his streak of never breaking 70 in the opening round at this elite event. Mickelson hit iron off the 18th tee but it worked out beautifully with an approach to 5 feet for birdie to salvage a 73.

PGA Europe

TURIN, Italy – Northern Ireland’s Gareth Maybin shot a course-record 7-under 64 to take a three-shot lead after the first round of the Italian Open.

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