SBS Open spectators watched Paula Creamer on the 18th green as an image of her teeing off played behind them.
SBS win takes some pressure off Creamer
Coming off her first title in 19 months, the 20-year-old has a shot at a Hawaii sweep
To even suggest that Paula Creamer might not win again left the SBS Open champion flabbergasted.
You almost expected the 20-year-old three-time LPGA Tour winner to say, "duh," before responding to the remark with a tightlipped yes. Granted, she created a little drama for herself and the fans who braved the blustery conditions Saturday at the always-tough Arnold Palmer-designed course at Turtle Bay.
There was that nasty double-bogey 6 at 11, and that ill-timed three-putt for bogey at unlucky 13. But she slammed the door on her doubters with a clutch, double-breaking 40-footer for birdie at the 17th that was less Pink Panther and more Tiger-like for the Californian.
Expectations were high for Creamer when she began 2006 here with bold predictions for her future. She already ruffled a few skirts late in her rookie campaign when stating Fearless Leader Annika Sorenstam had a line-of-sight problem during the first round of the 2005 ADT Championship.
Now, she was at the podium talking about playing better in the majors and ultimately challenging Sorenstam for the world No. 1 ranking. But as so often happens to athletes who do well as rookies, Creamer fell flat her sophomore season on tour.
Last March, she entered the final round of the MasterCard Classic tied with Sorenstam and Mi Hyun Kim for the lead, only to be reminded why Sorenstam has held the top spot in women's golf for so long. Sorenstam won and Creamer fell to fourth, two shots shy of the powerful Swede's winning score.
It was a downhill ride from there for Creamer, who managed only one second and two thirds the rest of the way, forcing her to rethink her strategy for 2007. It was clear in the first interview with Creamer last week that she wasn't here on vacation. She spent the offseason working smart and hard to correct her problems in 2006, both on and off the course.
When you're named rookie of the year after winning twice as a teenager, you're suddenly the center of attention. The sponsor wants to have breakfast at the country club for potential advertising spots, and the golf magazine wants to do lunch at a chic restaurant to discuss a cover shoot. Pretty soon, practice is no longer the full-time gig, and as anyone who plays this sport for a living can tell you, that cart path is fraught with peril.
So Creamer decided to spend more time at the range and less on things that didn't help her swing. She needed to have confidence with every shot in her bag, and the only way to do that was practice, practice, practice.
"The more you practice, the more repetition of completing a task, that puts pressure on yourself," Creamer said. "But it shows you have a goal, too. You just need to believe in yourself and knowing that you can hit the shots."
Creamer did just that with her front-nine 32 that left her four shots clear of the field entering the back side. Among the top 16 finishers, the best anyone else did over the opening nine holes was 35, including runner-up Julieta Granada. The 20-year-old's 34 on the closing side gave Creamer pause, but two big putts at 15 and 17 sealed the deal.
"I was out there with nine holes to go thinking, 'I haven't been in this situation for a while, I'm kind of rusty,' " Creamer said. "I think this is why things were going all over the place. I haven't been there for a while, but I remember every moment of all my wins. I know you just have to finish the round and that is what I did.
"I wasn't doubting myself. I knew that I could do it. It has been a while, a year. It's not that long, but for me, I expect so much out of myself, so this is a good start to the season."
Whether she has the staying power of her childhood cartoon favorite, only time will bear it out. But suffice to say, Creamer's 19-month drought between victories wasn't as concerning as say Karrie Webb's 22-month winless streak. Not even old enough to hoist a glass of champagne, Creamer has a lifetime to shape her pedigree.
"I play every tournament trying to win," Creamer said. "And either someone plays better or I don't meet my expectations. But I don't play a tournament that I don't feel I can win."
And that includes this week's Fields Open in Hawaii that showcases the same set of women for the second stage of the LPGA Tour. Webb, Granada, Lorena Ochoa, Cristie Kerr and company return to the Ko Olina Resort this Thursday to see if anyone can unseat the season-opening champion or whether she accomplishes what Ernie Els and Loren Roberts once did on their respective tours -- win the first two tournaments in Hawaii.