OAKMONT, Pa. (USA) – This time, there were no tears of disappointment for Paula Creamer at the U.S. Women’s Open.
Just tears of joy.
When her final putt dropped Sunday at the menacing Oakmont Country Club, Creamer’s culmination of hard work and sacrifice emotionally showed on her face. Playing with a still-healing hyperextended left thumb that required surgery in February, she returned to the LPGA just a month ago after not playing for four months.
Creamer didn’t hide her feelings at the 2008 Women’s Open, either, when she double-bogeyed the final-round ninth hole and let her nerves – and her potential victory – spiral out of control.
She punished her thumb by playing 52 holes during the final two days – 23 on Sunday – because of Friday’s rain suspension. Limited to 40 practice shots before each round, the 23-year-old Creamer found the best possible way to limit the pounding on her hand: take as few strokes as possible.
And that is what she did here all week.
Creamer was the only player to finish under par, at 3-under 281, four shots ahead of South Korea’s Na Yeon Choi (66) and Suzann Pettersen (69) of Norway.
Creamer led by three shots entering the final round. Her lead briefly down to two strokes after four holes, her two biggest confidence-building shots of the day might have been long, par-saving putts on Nos. 7 and 8 – even as Choi was charging with the tournament’s second-best round. Song-Hee Kim had a 65 on Sunday and finished 13th.
Creamer, from Pleasanton, Calif., had two bogeys through 12 holes and was even par. On the par-4 14th, after driving into thick rough, she hit her approach to 10 feet and made the putt for birdie, then flashed a bit of a smile for the first time. Creamer hit another exceptional mid-iron to 4 feet on the 442-yard 15th and made that, too.
At that point, the title was firmly in her grasp. Two weeks after Cristie Kerr won the LPGA Championship by 12 shots with domination, Creamer won with determination.
She said that the time away helped her game. “I’ve matured over the last couple of months,’’ Creamer said. “Mentally, I was just gunning for this week.’’
“It was hard. I’ve prepared for this for the last three months, and it makes everything so much better.”
The U.S. Women’s Open title is Creamer’s first major. She tied for sixth twice, in 2008 and 2009.
“I’ve always thought of my career as I’ve always been a pretty solid player, but that question always lurked: ‘How come you never won a major?’ Now we never have to get asked that question again,” said Creamer.
“That’s kind of a big relief off of my shoulders, but I knew that the time would come. I just had to be patient. Yesterday, I said these last couple of months were the most crucial months I think I’ve ever had to go through.”
Brittany Lang, the first-round leader with a 69, was within two shots before bogeys on the 15th and 16th dropped her six back. Lang (69), Yang (71) and former world No. 1 Jiyai Shin (68) tied for fifth at 286, one behind In Kyung Kim (68) of South Korea.
Wendy Ward, in second place when the final round began, took a triple-bogey 7 on No. 1 and was gone from contention. Kerr, the world’s No. 1-ranked player, tried to charge with consecutive birdies on No. 2 and No. 3, but fell back with four bogeys in the next six holes. She tied for 17th.
Alexis Thompson, the 15-year-old Floridian who is the successor to Michelle Wie as the next potential big star in women’s golf, trailed by five before taking a double bogey on No. 1. She was the second-longest hitter during her fourth Women’s Open, but was held back by a series of three-putts and tied for 10th.
All nine of Creamer’s LPGA victories came as she led going into the final round.
Creamer is the 12th first-time winner among the past 15 majors. Until Kerr won the LPGA and Creamer won the Women’s Open, the United States had won only eight of the past 39 majors.
Associated Press contributed to this report.