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EMBRACING A MAJOR

Lorena Ochoa soaks up her first major title, winning by 4.

It was love at first sight for Lorena Ochoa.

From the moment she first saw the Old Course last week, under a full moon so luminous it seemed as if the scene had been choreographed by Hollywood, she felt as if she and St. Andrews had been brought together by destiny.

That feeling grew after she played her first practice rounds for the Women's British Open and saw how the course's contours were a perfect fit for her imagination. It intensified when she drew a morning tee time on Thursday and was able to play in nearly ideal weather conditions - as rare an occurrence in these parts as a total solar eclipse.

Ochoa opened with 6-under 67 and never looked back, leading wire to wire to record her first Grand Slam victory. It came in the first women's pro tournament played at the home of golf. She sealed the win Sunday with 74 that gave her a 72-hole total of 5-under 287.

"There were a lot of people saying that I wasn't good enough or that I couldn't win a major or when am I going to win a major," said Ochoa, the No. 1 women's player in the world. She added, "I did it, and there's no more to say. I love St. Andrews."

After starting the day with a six-shot lead, Ochoa, 25, finished four shots ahead of Jee Young Lee and Maria Hjorth, who both closed with 71s on a cold, rainy day. The pewter sky and precipitation that greeted the 69 golfers Sunday appeared as if it were on cue, providing the final stamp of authentication on their St. Andrews experience.

Even as the star from Mexico put on her rain suit, it remained clear and sunny inside her head. All her thoughts, she said, "were very positive and very clear to me."

"You know, I saw myself on the 18th green lifting the trophy," she said, "and it's almost something that you already believe."

On the last green, Ochoa had an 18-foot putt for birdie and a four-shot lead. Reilley Rankin, who closed with 71 to finish fourth, emerged from the Royal & Ancient clubhouse - which heretofore had been closed to women - clutching a bottle of champagne in each hand. She handed one of the bottles to Ochoa's father, Javier, who was dabbing at his eyes with his paisley handkerchief.

Javier was edging toward the green when Ochoa hit her first putt, which missed the cup by 3 feet. As soon as Ochoa made the second putt, Javier and Rankin uncorked their bottles, ran onto the green and gave Lorena a champagne shower.

Ochoa's father gave his bottle to her, and she looked at it as if she were not sure whether to take a swig from it or break it over her golf bag in a kind of christening ceremony.

"Twenty-four majors and finally I have this here, and I think it's for a reason," Ochoa said. "I couldn't be more happy."

Annika Sorenstam, a 10-time major champion beset by neck and back injuries, saluted Ochoa.

"Everybody knows she is a fantastic player," Sorenstam said. "She's had a great run the last year and a half. She has matured a lot as a player. I think a major was just a matter of time."

Seminole's Brittany Lincicome shot par 73 to finish eight strokes back.

FAST FACTS

Final leaderboard

L. Ochoa 67-73-73-74 -5

J. Lee 72-73-75-71 -1

M. Hjorth 75-73-72-71 -1

R. Rankin 73-74-74-71 E

Notables

B. Lincicome 71-76-75-73 +3

A. Sorenstam 72-71-77-76 +4

J. Inkster 79-68-82-71 +8

Can't catch me

Tiger Woods leaves Rory Sabbatini in his wake to win for sixth time at Firestone. 7C

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