While much of the drama in yesterday's 22nd Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic presented by Kroger took place during the three playoff holes that were necessary to break a 72-hole tie between champion Mi Hyun Kim and runner-up Natalie Gulbis, there was a predator lurking just ahead of the leaders as regulation play concluded.
That predator was the LPGA tour's "Pink Panther," 2005 Rookie of the Year Paula Creamer.
After fading into an also-ran position through the first 13 holes of her final round at Highland Meadows, Creamer made a legitimate charge at creating a three-way playoff for the Farr title.
"I gave it a run," she said. "I birdied the last four out of five holes. What are you going to do? I put myself in contention and I had so much fun out there.
"It was exciting and I loved the pressure of it. It came down to a putt on the last hole, and I'm just glad I gave myself a chance."
Creamer had dropped to five strokes behind the leader (Gulbis) when she bogeyed the 10th hole to fall to 13-under.
"I was very aware of where I was all day, more down the stretch," Creamer said. "You can be a fast starter or a fast finisher. I knew if I just kept plugging along and kept giving myself chances, they were bound to drop. They did, and I just kept that momentum going."
The leader also sensed she was being stalked.
"I didn't know that was happening," Gulbis said of Creamer's surge, "but I looked at the [leader] board, and you can hear cheers where people are making birdies."
Creamer began a run of four consecutive birdies on the 14th green, getting to 17-under and to within a failed chance on a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th green of tying Gulbis and Kim.
"I knew I had to do something out there to put some pressure on Natalie because she was just playing so hot in the beginning," Creamer said. "I just stayed patient and I made a long one on the par-3 [No. 14] and, after that, it just felt like everything was going to go in."
Creamer's putt was almost precisely the same distance and on the same line as Annika Sorenstam's on 18 in the prior group moments earlier.
Sorenstam took a long look at the line before playing it about a foot left of the cup and watching her ball never break left. Creamer took a long look, played it to the right, and got the same result.
"I think it was a little bit of a mis-hit and a miss-read," Creamer said of the final putt on 18. "Butwhat are you going to do? Things happen. I made one at Sybase to do that, and this time I missed. So, next time, hopefully, it'll go in."
Creamer was referring to the 17-foot birdie putt she did make on 18 last year in Connecticut when she became the youngest player in history to win an LPGA multi-round tournament, the Sybase Classic.
Creamer won two LPGA events en route to finishing second to Sorenstam on last year's money list at $1,531,780 but she's still looking for her first win in her second season on tour.
But the season-high third-place finish (67-67-68-65 - 267) here netted her $77,007, bumped her to 11th on this year's money list ($647,869) and continued the confidence she's been building.
"I'm hitting the ball better, I'm playing better and I'm putting myself in good places," Creamer said. "I have a lot of confidence in my putter and my irons right now.
"This was probably the best I've played, consistency-wise, this season. I think I had three bogeys this whole week. That's pretty good. I gave myself a lot of chances and I'm very pleased. I'm feeling very confident going into the British Open and the Evian Masters [in France] after this."