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Lorena Ochoa of Mexico makes her tee shot on the second hole at Priddis Greens during practice for the Canadian Women's Golf Open in Priddis near Calgary, September 2, 2009. (TODD KOROL)
Lorena Ochoa of Mexico makes her tee shot on the second hole at Priddis Greens during practice for the Canadian Women's Golf Open in Priddis near Calgary, September 2, 2009. (TODD KOROL)

Allan Maki

Ochoa, Kerr create rivalry Add to ...

How do you choose the one, the best, the belle of the golf ball?

Lorena Ochoa is the top-ranked female golfer in the world, has been for two years. Cristie Kerr leads the 2009 LPGA Tour with 11 top-10 finishes and $1.3-million (all currency U.S.) in winnings. Ochoa has won two major tournaments in her career, Kerr one.

Combined, the Guadalajara-born Ochoa and the Miami-born Kerr have pocketed more money in their careers than the Brinks robbers did, more than $22-million. We're talking about two highly accomplished women eager to claim Annika Sorenstam's crown as the best female player in the game.

And that competition is certain to carry over to the CN Canadian Women's Open, an event Ochoa won in 2007 and Kerr in 2006. That doesn't mean there won't be challengers aplenty at the Priddis Greens Golf & Country Club.

LPGA veterans say the tour has become much tougher since the women's game has gone global. The difference between the top 10 and the top 50 isn't as dramatic as it once was. Cuts are getting lower; younger players are turning pro with polished swings and titanium nerves. Plus - and this is big among the contenders in Southern Alberta - Ochoa has won just twice this year, which makes this a bummer season by her standards.

But Ochoa and Kerr have proved many times theirs can be a different rivalry, a cut above and then some, which is why they're eager for today's opening round.

"On the course, it's kind of all business for us and there are always those little rivalries," Kerr said. "You want to beat the best in the world when they're playing their best. ... [Ochoa]is a great competitor."

The rivalry between Ochoa and Kerr is good-natured mainly because the two are quite alike. Former LPGA star Gail Graham of Canada believes the same traits that made Sorenstam so dominant can be found in Ochoa and Kerr. The most noticeable: Neither has a hint of a flaw in her game.

"The thing that's great about the both of them is the consistency factor," Graham explained. "Lorena is outwardly very calm, serene. Internally, she's intense. She wants to be No.1 at everything. With Cristie, what has elevated her game is that she's worked hard on her mental side. She's worked on her Zen golf. Both are comfortable leading or coming from behind. You can see that confidence."

So is one better than the other?

"No," answered Graham. "Some days you putt better; some days you drive better. There's nothing they do that's over-the-top better than everyone else. It's just being a little bit higher, a little more consistent."

And that's Ochoa and Kerr to a tee. They strive for reliability and lament when they miss it even by the slightest of margins.

"It's been many practices this year but I understand how it goes, and I've seen players have years that have little ups and downs," Ochoa said of her season to date. "My goal every tournament I play in is to win and I know there are many players out there trying to win. So competition is not easy. But I like my chances."

Ochoa was the first woman to win more than $4-million in a single season. Kerr, No.3 in the world, has won almost $9-million in her career and has used her stature to benefit others. Since 2003, when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, Kerr has been raising money to find a cure and is now close to opening a women's health centre that will include digital mammography for those can't afford it.

Ochoa, too, has a charitable side. She runs a foundation that operates an elementary school for 300 underprivileged children. "A lot of our relationship has to do with golf so when we're on the course we chat it up," Kerr said of how she gets along with Ochoa. "Off the course, she's an amazing person. … You have a mutual admiration for what the other does."

Admiration. Regard. A need to leave the other behind in a bunker-sized divot. Ochoa and Kerr have it all, which should make for glorious viewing in Southern Alberta. About the only thing this dynamite duo can't do is handle the question of, "Who's better?"

"I don't think I can answer that," answered Ochoa, a 26-time LPGA Tour winner to Kerr's 12. "Cristie can play very good, solid for many years. … I think the results show who is the best player."

Arguably the best player there is right now.

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