A loveable leader

TERRY JONES

, Last Updated: 8:18 AM ET

You'd think somewhere you could find somebody who might be just a little bit catty about the girl.

But from young to old, rising star to fading star, no name to big name, they're unanimous.

They all adore Lorena Ochoa.

"We do," said Laura Diaz, the New Yorker who sits tied for second, four strokes back of the No. 1 player in the world going into the final round of the CN Canadian Women's Open today.

"Lorena is a great person. She's just an all-around incredible, fabulous girl. She's as sweet as can be.

'NOT SELFISH'

"She's not selfish at all. She's happy for you when you play well. I personally love playing with her. She's always encouraging me when we're out there and that's fun. She's a great person to be around," said Diaz.

"You know, I even hate to tell you this. She's probably a nicer person than she is a player," said Juli Inkster, the 47-year-old Hall of Famer who sits tied for fifth going into the final round.

You'd think resentment would be building as Ochoa steps up to take over where Annika Sorenstam left off.

Ochoa won the last tournament, the British Women's Open. And, Ochoa with 29 rounds in the 60s already this year, appears to have already won this one.

"She's just such a nice, genuine girl," said Mhiari McKay, who shot a six-under 65 yesterday to move into position to compete for the $205,481 prize money the rest of the field is going to be playing for today behind the $337,500 Ochoa already has in her pocket.

"You can hear it in her voice, the way she talks and the way she laughs," said McKay.

"She's got a personality that you want to spend time around because she's got that infections laugh and good nature.

"I can only say great things about her. She's a great No. 1 and just in general a very good person. You like to see people like that successful," said the lass from Scotland.

Nobody adores her more than Julieta Granada, the Paraguayan who shot a five-under 66 to place her tied for 13th.

Ochoa is her Big Sister.

Various players on the LPGA Tour volunteer to be Big Sisters to rookie players, to show them the ropes.

"It's a program where some of the veterans volunteer to help the rookies out. Just little things, really. They'll go out of the way to make the transition easier from simple things like showing you where the locker room is located, look out for you a little bit, play practice rounds with you and go out with you to dinner.

"Last year she was my Big Sister. She's a nice girl who deserves everything that she's getting because she's worked really hard for it. I was so happy that she won the British."

Alena Sharp, the top Canadian at four-under and in the tie for 13th, says Ochoa is an inspiration in every way.

"She's a great player. She's an amazing golfer. She does it every week. She's always up there. And yet she's very humble. She always says help," said Sharp of the 25-year-old who is about to win her fifth tournament of the year to push her prize money for the year over $2.6 million.

ONE BY ONE

One by one I asked about Ochoa the person at the Royal Mayfair yesterday and when she came into the interview room after she shot a seven-under-par 64 yesterday I threw it out at her.

"You've been taking money out of everyone's pockets and yet every one on the tour seems to adore you. Can you talk about that?"

She was even just plain adorable answering the question.

"I think it would be hard for me to answer that but I want to say thank you to all the LPGA players and just everybody around who's been so nice to me. I respect all of them a lot and I get that back.

"It's only the money. And I try to be nice."


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