JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Paula Creamer won the SBS Open at Turtle Bay last year and took the Fields Open at Ko Olina this weekend.
Creamer feels right at home in Hawaii
Paula Creamer set sail for Singapore today with her mom and dad sitting on one side of her and the Fields Open trophy nestled comfortably on the other.
It's a long, nearly half-day flight across six time zones to this foreign destination, but as she stepped off the podium following Saturday's press conference, Creamer was looking forward to the adventure.
The new $2 million event marks the debuts for No. 1-ranked Lorena Ochoa and No. 4 Karrie Webb as they join their sisters on the LPGA Tour. Since they've been away, former world No. 1 Annika Sorenstam has rounded into form, winning the SBS Open the first week and challenging again at the Fields Open this past weekend, before settling for fourth.
When the new Rolex rankings come out today, No. 2 Sorenstam will have moved a little closer to where she wants to be, giving Ochoa plenty to think about before the Kraft Nabisco Championship the first week of April. Creamer is No. 5, but could crowd Webb a bit for the fourth spot based on her win this past weekend and 12th-place finish at the SBS Open.
Creamer spent most of her Hawaiian work/vacation in bed with flu-like symptoms that seemed to make her focus more, even though she practiced less. With both events' futures in the island chain uncertain -- Fields will not be the title sponsor next year and Turtle Bay is in limbo -- it's possible Creamer won't have a title to defend.
And that's too bad because there were plenty of people roaming the Ko Olina Resort grounds to get a look at the enigma better known as Michelle Wie, Sorenstam, Creamer, Natalie Gulbis and an Asian contingent as strong as any in the world taking their best shots at the par-72 course.
The weather was ideal, the scores were low and Creamer and Jeong Jang put on a show worthy of Broadway. Jang, looking for her first win since June 2006, birdied the 15th to take a two-shot lead into the stretch drive, only to stand and watch Creamer roll in three birdie putts to snag her fifth LPGA Tour win in a career that officially began in 2005 at Turtle Bay.
Creamer said Hawaii holds a special place in her heart and it's easy to see why. She and Wie are former Curtis Cup teammates, but their careers are going in decidedly different directions. Wie has been a student at Stanford since last fall, practicing on the side, but still doing the things students do.
The 21-year-old Creamer opted to play golf, instead of hitting the books, and it's paying off with a high ranking and even higher expectations as Creamer challenges Ochoa and Co. for the No. 1 spot in the world. Given her age and experience, Creamer will need a few more years of seasoning, but you get the idea it's only a matter of time.
Her putting all three days at Ko Olina was dead-on when it needed to be. She had rounds of 66, 68 and 66 to win by one over a fading Jang. Sorenstam made a charge, but several double bogeys in her opening 108 holes held her back. She overcame them at Turtle Bay, but not so at what 2007 champion Stacy Prammanasudh called a birdie-fest at Ko Olina.
The ladies return to Hawaii this October at Kapalua in a new event that serves as a bridge to the Japanese phase of the tour. Morgan Pressel will be here representing Kapalua, and Creamer, although not committing right away, said Saturday she would probably play the Plantation Course.
"I like it here -- a lot," she said.
And Hawaii returned the favor for the second time in two years, making it clear that Wie's rivals are ready and willing to be among the best, starting right in Wie's own back yard.