My Sportsman: Lorena Ochoa

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Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 3. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer. For more essays, click here.

The LPGA has a spiffy new logo this year. Coincidentally, three prominent colors in the artsy outlined figure of a woman golfer are red, green and white, the national colors of Mexico. It goes well with the tour's expanding schedule -- two tournaments in Mexico -- and the LPGA's unofficial and frequently heard new cheer Viva Lorena!

Lorena Ochoa took over as the No. 1 player in women's golf, dominating her tour every bit as much as the player she replaced once did, Annika Sorenstam. Ochoa is from Mexico. She won seven times in 2007, including her first major championship. She smiles a lot. She is the pride of an entire nation. And in many ways, she is adorable.

She whiffed on a lob shot, the club passing completely under the ball in the thick grass, en route to a quadruple bogey that pretty much took her out of contention in the Nabisco Championship. Later, she managed a smile and a shrug when asked about it. "I'm only human," she said.

She goes out of her way to say hello to any Hispanic workers she sees at golf courses and has more interaction with fans in one weekend than Tiger Woods has in a year. She butchered the back nine at the Ginn Open in Orlando, playing it in six over par and handing the victory to Brittany Lincicome, but nonetheless went out to mingle with fans and sign autographs. Then she saw two Hispanic youngsters in tears. "I was upset that I let it slip away but I told myself, learn from this so it doesn't happen again," Ochoa said. "And then I saw those two little boys. They were crying and saying, 'Lorena, you lost.' I started crying with them."

Her enthusiasm for the game is unmistakable. Her appeal is undeniable. Especially at the events in Mexico, where crowds followed and cheered her every move in what would've been called Tigermania on another tour. How big is she? Mexico's President Felipe Calderon presented her with a plaque on the 18th green at the Corona Morelia Championship, in honor of her rise to No. 1 in women's golf. "All Mexicans are proud of her," the President said. "Lorena represents the Mexico we want to be, the Mexico that cannot be beaten, the Mexico that fights, the Mexico that opens paths in the world, the Mexico that wins."

She is only human, as she said herself, and that seems to add to her appeal. She isn't the longest driver on tour but she may be the most driven and clearly, she is the most adept at getting the ball in the hole. Ochoa led the tour in greens hit in regulation and putts per green, a guaranteed formula for success. She overcame a reputation for not being a very strong closer, and, in fact, bobbled a few titles in '07.

Then she went on to win seven times, with the highlight being the Women's British Open. It was played on the Old Course at St. Andrews, the most venerable golf site in the world. It was windy on the weekend and Ochoa, a high-ball hitter, wasn't supposed to be a good wind player. She shot 73 in the third round on a day when 26 players couldn't break 80, and opened a six-shot lead. She closed it out in style for her first major title.

Her statistics are Tiger-like: 24 starts, 20 top-ten finishes, seven wins, and 62 of 85 rounds under par. She is the game's top star and also one of the most popular among her peers, which wasn't the case with Sorenstam. Ochoa had a monster career year and at only 25, there's reason to believe the best is yet to come. She's an obvious and deserving choice for SI's Sportsman of the Year.

In fact, there is only one thing left to say -- Viva Lorena!

Agree with this selection? Give us your pick for Sportsman here.