Paula Creamer chomped on her putter after winning the SBS Open at Turtle Bay yesterday.
Creamer in the pink
After going winless last year, the 20-year-old opens 2007 in style
Paula Creamer won't go winless in 2007.
After suffering through a mild sophomore slump last season, the 20-year-old came to Hawaii with one thought on her mind -- winning. Thanks in part to four consecutive birdies on the front nine and a 40-footer for birdie at the 17th, Creamer held on to a one-shot victory yesterday over Julieta Granada at the season-opening $1.1 million SBS Open at Turtle Bay.
Creamer finished at 9-under 207 to earn her third victory on the LPGA Tour. Granada made it interesting with a closing 3-under 69, one of only two rounds in the 60s, but several missed opportunities down the stretch allowed the hard-working Creamer to escape with the win.
"It's a great feeling, it really is," Creamer said. "Walking down the 18th hole, one-shot lead, I was thinking get it in the clubhouse as fast as I can. It's a good feeling and a good way to start the year."
Many of the women took a relaxed approach to the first two weeks in Hawaii, but Creamer was not among them. She didn't take kindly to going 0-for-27 in 2006 and wouldn't allow a wrist injury to be used as an excuse.
Creamer also remained focused on the task at hand yesterday. While final-round playing partners Morgan Pressel and Sherri Steinhauer talked about the good old days of the 2002 Junior Solheim Cup earlier in the week, Creamer didn't have time to reminisce about being on that same team.
Steinhauer and Pressel visited briefly at the first tee as Creamer was the last to arrive from the practice green. She gave her quick hellos to the two women who were tied with her through the second round, but after that, the only conversation she had at the opening tee was to show what golf ball she was using.
Her front-nine 32 left a stellar leaderboard wondering what course Creamer was playing, as seven players jockeyed back and forth all afternoon for second. As Creamer made the turn, she held a four-shot advantage over Pressel as the fellow young American tried her best to match the Californian's blistering pace.
But on the back side, the wheels came off the golf cart for Creamer, as she double-bogeyed the 11th after hitting her drive in the water, then bogeyed the 13th, as suddenly her four-shot advantage was trimmed to one. Pressel also struggled, with back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 12 and 13 to finish in a tie for fourth with Janice Moodie and world No. 2 Lorena Ochoa at 5 under for the tournament.
Granada broke out of a tight pack with an eagle 2 at the par-4 seventh after holing a shot from about 150 yards. She bogeyed the eighth and 10th to fall off the pace a bit, but birdies at 12, 15 and 18 allowed her to pull even with Creamer at 8 under for the tournament.
Creamer responded with a double-breaking bomb for birdie at the 17th as she hopped up and down twice as the ball rolled in, center cup. A no-nonsense par at the closing hole from about 2 feet sealed the deal for Creamer, who bit into her putter after ramming in the short putt for par.
"It was a roller coaster," Creamer said of the 2-under 70 finish, one of only nine rounds in the red at the windswept Turtle Bay Resort. "I can't even explain it. It was so up and down out there. I started off really strong, then my favorite hole on the golf course, No. 11, I've never played that hole well.
"I can't even explain how I'm feeling now. I know I've worked hard this offseason. I'm glad that I won. It's a big load off of my shoulders. I just hope that it is a good season. I've worked hard and hopefully I'll be standing here a couple of more times."
Dressed in her traditional pink, Creamer's no-nonsense approach was born from going winless in 2006. She won twice on the LPGA Tour as an 18-year-old rookie and two other events worldwide in 2005, and seemed poised to take on Annika Sorenstam as the world's best player in women's golf.
But outside the ropes proved too demanding for Creamer, who said yes to every sponsor and media request, taking away from her valuable practice time. After moving into a tie for first with a 2-under 70 on Friday, Creamer went straight to the range as the wind and rain whipped at her back.
Once in the media room, she was wet from head to toe. The sunglasses perched atop her cap were covered in rain drops, but it didn't seem to bother her. As a junior golfer growing up in California, she spent plenty of time in the wind and rain, and knew yesterday's forecast called for more of the same.
"It was blowing hard," Creamer said. "There were holes where it was difficult, very windy, especially when you're putting and you're looking at shots where you hit a 5-iron 150 yards and I hit my 5-iron almost 170. At the beginning, a lot of the players were struggling with it. But the more you are out there, the easier it becomes."
Granada and Se Ri Pak managed the best round of the day at 3-under 69. Granada ended 2006 with a win at the ADT Championship and the $1 million payday that goes with it. She finished strong with a 20-foot putt for birdie at the last, but the 12-footer she missed for birdie at No. 17 proved to be her undoing.
"I played the best I could today," Granada said. "My bogeys were kind of dumb. Other than that, I'll take it because I gave her a run. I think winning builds more confidence, and from there you just build on it. It's a huge difference. I'm thinking now, let's go out and win, instead of just trying to make the top 10. That win at the end of the year kind of got me going."
Karrie Webb, coming off two victories in three weeks in her home country of Australia, needed a day or two to adjust to the time change in Hawaii. She conceded she was a bit winded, but still managed three consecutive rounds of 70 to finish alone in third at 6-under 210, three shots off Creamer's winning pace.
"I am very happy with my week overall," Webb said. "I was pretty tired when I got here, a little jet-lagged during Thursday's opening round. Today was my best round by far, my best ball-striking round and best trust round and belief in myself.
"If you said I was going to shoot 2 under today I would have taken it and sat in the clubhouse, and thought I would have won the tournament. Paula and Julieta played very well out there, especially in these conditions."