Paula Creamer held on to win the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic by two strokes. It is the third victory for Creamer this year and the seventh of her career. Nicole Castrale rallied with a 64 to finish in second place at -14, Eun-Hee Ji finished third at -13 while rookie Shanshan Feng was fourth at -12.
Early on, it appeared that Paula’s Sunday challenger was going to be Feng. The rookie whose best prior performance was a T39 at the Safeway International came out with birdies at 2, 4, 6 and 8 to draw within three. Creamer had bogeyed the first and parred out the rest of her front nine. Ji was stumbling with bogeys at 2 and 4 (momentarily giving Paula a five-shot lead) and Rachel Hetherington did the same, unfortunately knocking herself out of reach. At 11, Feng dropped her fifth birdie of the day to draw within two and Eun-Hee birdied 12 to also pull within two. Then Creamer bogeyed 12 and suddenly the five-shot lead was only one.
On the very next hole, Paula turned the tables. A nine-footer for birdie extended her lead back to two. Both Feng and Ji began to falter – Shanshan bogeyed 14, 15 and 16 and Eun-Hee bogeyed 15. Meanwhile, Castrale was finishing with a bang – six birdies on the back nine put her in the clubhouse at -14. Through 15 holes, Creamer had a three-shot lead on Castrale and four on the two contenders still on the course. She made things a little bit interesting with a bogey at 16 but pars at the final two holes sealed the win.
Easy choice for Big Surprise this week – Shanshan Feng had only made four cuts in 14 starts this year before winding up fourth. That kind of performance is exactly what makes the LPGA so intriguing for me. What factors came together this week for Feng to make this sudden leap? I hope somebody asked her that question post-round (she’s not included on the interview page at lpga.com). The Big Disappointment goes to Christina Kim, who missed her third cut of 2008.
I’ve already talked about the historical significance of Paula Creamer’s first two rounds this weekend but I wanted to say a few things about the way she went on to win. We all assume that a player who shoots so low early in an event is going to win easily. If they don’t win handily, there is an underlying feeling that the player failed in some respect. Leaderboard watching has taught me a few things about the game over the years – one of those things is that players who have multi-shot leads with 18 or 36 holes to play almost always don’t maintain the entire amount of that lead and some of them wind up losing. Paula did not lose the Jamie Farr, and while I’m in the neighborhood she did NOT blow the U.S. Open either. She didn’t even have the overnight lead at Interlachen but the prevailing wind that is Golf Media is starting to say “Creamer has trouble closing tournaments”. I guess somebody in the Top 10 has to carry that label since Ochoa shed it, but Paula didn’t seem to have a problem closing at the Fields Open or SemGroup.
One more thing and I’m done. I watched a little of the American Century Championship (the celebrity golf wing-ding on NBC) this weekend. Yesterday, Annika Sorenstam was in the booth talking with Dan Hicks. I’m sure she had a good reason for being there (I had the sound down so I didn’t hear what they talked about) but it seemed very odd to me that this not-yet-retired player was at a made-for-TV fluff event while her Tour was playing one of the longest-running best-attended tournaments of its season.
UPDATE: Ok, I lied. I forgot to mention the windy conditions which mostly overrode the great scoring of the first three days. Only 13 players broke par Sunday, which makes Nicole Castrale's 64 look almost as good as Creamer's 60 on Thursday. The four-day average of 71.48 was the second-lowest of 2008 but adjusted for par was only the fifth-lowest of the 19 events and is within the normal variance of scoring in past tournaments at Highland Meadows.