Paula Creamer shared the SBS Open lead with Paige Mackenzie and Sherri Steinhauer after shooting a 67 yesterday.
Pink Panther stalks SBS Open
Creamer, looking to bounce back, shares the lead with Mackenzie and Steinhauer
Paula Creamer would soon forget all about 2006 if anybody would let her.
After a stellar rookie season, in which she won twice, Creamer suffered through a sophomore slump that left her out of the winner's circle last year, something she'd like to remedy as the 20-year-old prepares for season three on the LPGA Tour.
Dressed in her traditional pink, Creamer fired a 5-under 67 yesterday to share the first-round lead of the $1.1 million SBS Open with tour rookie Paige Mackenzie and veteran Sherri Steinhauer. Julieta Granada, another 20-year-old, who won the final tournament of 2006 and the $1 million first-place check that goes with it, was just one shot back at 4-under 68 as the Arnold Palmer-designed course played tough in favorable conditions yesterday at the Turtle Bay Resort.
Joining Granada in a tie for fourth entering today's second round were Natalie Gulbis, Wendy Ward and Sung Ah Yim. Of the 138 players in the first LPGA event of 2007, only 33 broke par, with 15 finishing within two shots of the lead. Eight golfers are in at 3-under 69, just two shots back, including Juli Inkster and Morgan Pressel.
Most of the top scores were posted in the morning round, with Ward, Gulbis and Steinhauer the most notable exceptions. Lorena Ochoa and Karrie Webb, the second- and third-ranked players in the world, were among the afternoon finishers. Ochoa opened with a 1-under 71 and Webb managed a 2-under 70 to remain in contention in this 54-hole event.
As for Creamer, the past may be right behind her, but she prefers to focus on the future. As a rookie in 2005, she finished second on the money list to world No. 1 Annika Sorenstam, but she dipped to 11th last year, earning about a half-million dollars less than the season before.
There were a lot of reasons, Creamer said, that led to her demise. She still had 14 top-10 finishes, including a tie for second, but her play at the majors was particularly suspect, with a tie for 16th at the U.S. Women's Open her best finish among the four. She said last year that one of her goals was to do better at the majors, but she had no inkling that she would come up empty in 2006.
"I feel that I worked really hard this offseason," Creamer said. "That is a big thing (not winning in 2006), so I'm motivated by that to just go out and play solid golf. I look back at my year and I kind of compared it to my rookie year in 2005 and just noticed certain things. I worked really hard on my weaknesses in my golf game."
Lack of consistency was the one negative that stood out above the rest. Despite having a better scoring average last year, Creamer seemed to let one round get away from her, and that proved to be her undoing.
"Just always having one not so good day that would take me out of contention," Creamer said. "Just too many mistakes. Too many bogeys and not enough birdies to cancel it out. I just feel it was one of those years where my expectations were incredibly high and I kind of put a lot of pressure on myself."
Mackenzie and Steinhauer will try to avoid that pitfall as they prepare for their second rounds. While Mackenzie will tee it up late today, Steinhauer will be among the morning finishers as she attempts to remain atop the leaderboard. Last year, the 45-year-old won her first tournament in two years and only her second event of the 21st century.
The captain of the Ping Junior Solheim Cup in 2002, Steinhauer is quite familiar with the younger crowd that's dominating the tour of late and is comfortable passing the torch to the kids of the LPGA.
"I had Morgan Pressel, Paula Creamer, Brittany Lang, Brittany Lincicome and all of those young ones on the team," Steinhauer said. "I kind of feel like it is an advantage because I know of them personally and they are all such good kids and great competitors. I think it's great for our tour with all of these young ones coming up."
Granada is a member of that younger set who has already managed a victory. She captured the season-ending ADT Championship and spent part of her $1 million purse on a new Range Rover for her and her mom. While playing out at Champions Gate in Florida, former world No. 1 Greg Norman noticed Granada practicing and came over to tell her how well she had played at the ADT.
"Oh my God, that was the nicest thing that ever happened to me," Granada said. "He came over to me from 20 yards away and he started talking. He said he watched me play at the ADT and that I was an awesome player, good luck next year and I hope you win more tournaments. I didn't know what to say. I just said, 'Nice to meet you.' "
As for Mackenzie, this is her first tournament as a tour member, but like Creamer and Gulbis, she believes this course sets up well for her. She didn't get nervous until walking up her finishing hole.
"I saw the leaderboard behind the green and I was leading and I got nervous," Mackenzie said. "My heart started beating faster, then I birdied, so maybe I need to scoreboard watch more often."
Gulbis was even more succinct on how she views 2007. While Creamer, Granada and several other players in her age group have already won, Gulbis is 0-for-135 in career starts on the LPGA Tour.
"To win a tournament," Gulbis said, when asked what her goals were for the upcoming season. "Every single week, you know, I try to take it week by week, but my first goal is to win an event."
Winning for a third time on tour is Creamer's goal and she believes this course, where she made her debut as a tour member in 2005, suits her just fine.
"You have to think a lot out here," Creamer said. "I like golf courses where you really have to place the ball. It is windy. The greens, you have to place the balls in certain places and one of my strengths is irons. So I think the course does suit my game."