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Mexican women seize the sports limelight

Golfer Lorena Ochoa is one of three new female Mexican sports idols

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Forget Annika Sorenstam. Mexico has its own "Tigresa Woods."

Lorena Ochoa, the hotshot Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) rookie whose golfing record is topped only by her taste for adventure, has enraptured this nation of 100 million, even though only some 18,000 people here have ever picked up a golf club.

But Mexico's Golf Association for Women says its phone has been ringing off the hook since Ms. Ochoa hit the pro circuit last year, with parents calling to find out where their daughters can take golf lessons. "This is entirely because of her influence," says association president Sonia de Feher. "She is opening the doors for young female golfers here and female athletes in general."

In a macho culture where most prominent athletes are male, and the majority play soccer, Ochoa's sudden rise to fame is extraordinary.

What's more, she's not alone. There's track star Anna Guevera, who recently broke the world record in the 300-meter sprint; songs have been written about her speed and grace. And there's weightlifter Soraya Jimenez, who scored a huge upset in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, winning Mexico its first-ever gold medal in the 127-1/2-pound lift.

In a country where busty bombshells have long been the main female images on ad campaigns, three strong, competitive women have become national heroes. Now Ochoa, Ms. Guevera, and Ms. Jimenez are featured in campaigns for companies ranging from Audi to Aeromexico, selling everything from Nikes to Wonder Bread.

"Outside [soccer], it was always very hard for an athlete to fill a stadium, especially competing in sports that don't have tremendous interest here," says Ivis López, a sports columnist for the newspaper Reforma. "The fact that these three women aren't the typical female image here - I think that is part of the curiosity. It is something new for us."

Excelling in golf is nothing new for Ochoa. In two years at the University of Arizona, she notched five Junior World titles to her belt, an NCAA record.

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