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Published: Wednesday, 7/11/2007

Creamer's great rookie season hard to duplicate

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
Paula Creamer celebrates a birdie in last year's Farr when she finished third   her second-best finish of 2006. Paula Creamer celebrates a birdie in last year's Farr when she finished third her second-best finish of 2006.
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When Paula Creamer won the LPGA Tour s season-opening SBS Open in Hawaii, one magazine headline blared that her slump had ended.

Wow. Creamer has not yet celebrated her 21st birthday. She has been a professional and a tour player for less than three full years. A slump?

It s kind of hard to have a slump in two years, but I guess it s nice that people believe in me so much that they d feel I was slumping because I didn t win last year, Creamer said yesterday at Highland Meadows Golf Club. But, hey, maybe it was [a slump] in a way because I did have such a good rookie year.

Ah, we should all experience such a slump.

Creamer s third-place finish in last summer s Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic was her second best result of the year. She posted 14 top-10 finishes, set a single-season money record ($1,076,163) for a player without a win, and passed the $2 million mark in career earnings faster than any player in tour history.

Tough year, eh?

By no means was it a bad year, she said. It just wasn t quite up to my standards.

Creamer began playing golf at the age of 10 and within seven years was the top-ranked amateur in the U.S. She won 11 American Junior Golf Association titles, represented the U.S. on the Curtis Cup team at the age of 16, played on the U.S. Junior Solheim Cup team, and competed in 10 LPGA events as an amateur, posting five top-20 finishes.

Then she turned professional in 2005 and won two tournaments and more than $1.5 million, while also earning the most points for the victorious U.S. Solheim Cup team.

So, going winless in 06 was certainly against her grain. But it wasn t like she was stinking up the joint.

I hit the ball just as well as the year before, Creamer said. This year, I m hitting it better than ever.

That might be bad news for the rest of this week s Farr Classic field because there are few things Creamer would rather do than win this tournament. She is, of course, nicknamed the Pink Panther. And this is, of course, the tournament sponsored by Owens Corning.

There s a little pressure coming here, said Creamer, who has a sponsorship affiliation with Owens Corning. There s pink everywhere and I see my picture everywhere with the Pink Panther [mascot]. At the end of the day I think it helps a lot because of the fan base and the support. I really want to win, but it isn t always as easy as it sounds.

It would be nice, though. Other than maybe the tournament at home [Longs Drugs Challenge near her hometown of Pleasanton, Calif.] this would be the big one I d like to win.

As she said, though, saying it and doing it are not necessarily one in the same. One thing she learned a year ago was that there are so many players who can contend. There s tremendous depth and such good young talent. The competition on tour now is very tight and there are a lot of great Sunday finishes.

Creamer was asked if all that stood between the LPGA and the same recognition given the men s tour was the emergence of a Tiger Woods-like star.

No, I think we had that with Annika [Sorenstam], Creamer said. I think that s what we ve had, when she dominated everything. Now, the fact that there are so many other players winning, I think it becoming more exciting. The more people see us, the more they want to watch and come to tournaments.

In a short period of time, Creamer has certainly become one of the biggest of the LPGA s drawing cards.

That s especially the case now that she s no longer mired in that dreadful sophomore slump.



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