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Golf Tidbits: With Ochoa retiring, who will step up?

Kevin Currie, Golf Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The suddenness was shocking, but those who follow women's golf closely knew this day was coming sooner rather than later.

Lorena Ochoa followed Annika Sorenstam's lead in going out on top, announcing her retirement earlier this week. Ochoa and Sorenstam are the only two players that have been ranked No. 1 in the Rolex Women's World Golf Rankings, which started on Feb. 21, 2006. Sorenstam topped those rankings for the first 60 weeks, and Ochoa has been No. 1 since April 23, 2007, the week she bumped Sorenstam from the top spot.

As the LPGA Tour ponders who will be the next transcendent star, the silver lining on this black cloud is that 12 of the top 20 players in the world rankings are 23-years-old or younger.

Among that group of 12 players, nine have won on the LPGA Tour and three have won majors. Paula Creamer and Michelle Wie, who are two of the four from the U.S. ranked in the top 20, are the Americans most likely to battle for the top spot in the rankings.

Cristie Kerr, a 12-time winner on the LPGA Tour, might take offense to that, but at 32, Kerr is the third-oldest among the top 20 players and could be next in line to retire, or step away from the game, in order to start a family.

Korean Jiyai Shin and China's Yani Tseng are ranked second and third in the world and will likely battle for the top spot in the rankings in the weeks to come.

Many observers would say this is the perfect time for Wie to jump to the forefront. The 20-year-old collected her first professional victory last year and has climbed to No. 9 in the world rankings.

Shelly, as she is known to her Solheim Cup teammates, has taken the quarter off from her studies at Stanford University to focus on golf. That has not translated into a win yet this season, but she has made the cut in all four starts and ranks 13th on the money list through four starts.

As the 2010 season continues, it will be interesting to see who is able to grab the most headlines and become the new star. Shin and Tseng certainly have the game to become the best player on the LPGA Tour, but will either be able to thrive with the added spotlight?

Only time will tell if it is one of them, or someone else, who rules the roost over the next several years.

TIGER IS COMING TO PHILLY, FINALLY

Tiger Woods famously plays the same events year in and year out because those events are played on courses he likes, or those that he feels suit his game.

Of the top nine media markets in the United States, the lone market Woods has yet to compete in is Philadelphia. That's about to change, as the City of Brotherly love, as the No. 4 market will now see Woods three times in the next four years.

He will make his first appearance in the area this July at the AT&T National, which will be contested at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square.

That event benefits the Tiger Woods foundation and is being played at Aronimink as its normal host course, Congressional Golf Club, undergoes renovations prior to hosting the 2011 U.S. Open.

In addition to Aronimink and several other fine courses, the Philadelphia area boasts two of the top-10 courses in the world, Pine Valley and Merion Golf Clubs. Woods has yet to step foot on either famous venue, but Merion will play host to the 2013 U.S. Open and there are rampant rumors that Woods will be in town in the next few weeks to check out all three courses.

The most interesting thing about Aronimink will be how the crowds treat Woods. It will be his fifth tournament back following his much-publicized scandal, and could be the first time he faces a tough crowd in what will be an unknown venue to him.

MINI-TIDBITS

- Best of luck to Ken Green this week, as he makes his return to the Champions Tour nine months after an RV accident killed his girlfriend and brother. Green suffered serious injuries in that crash and had the lower part of his right leg amputated. He is not only fighting through the pain of that crash, but also the pain of losing his son, who died in January after ingesting a lethal combination of alcohol and prescription drugs.

- Tough luck for this week's Zurich Classic as the top two ranked players in the field - Jim Furyk and Ian Poulter - both withdrew because of injuries.

- Rich Beem, the 2002 PGA Champion, is expected to miss the next six weeks because of back surgery.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Kevin Currie at kcurrie@sportsnetwork.com.

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