Creamer becomes second-youngest LPGA winner
NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. -- Paula Creamer gave herself quite a graduation gift.
The 18-year-old made a 17-foot birdie putt on the final hole Sunday to win the Sybase Classic by one stroke and become the second-youngest first-time winner ever on the LPGA Tour.
Creamer won't be able to win two weeks in a row, though, as she has to return to Bradenton, Fla. for her high school graduation on Thursday.
"It's going to be fun going home for graduation, that's for sure," she said. "I can't even speak let alone think right now. It's awesome. I have so much energy right now."
The former amateur star closed with a 1-under 71 on the Wykagyl Country Club course, including three birdies in her last five holes. She had tap-in birdies on the par-4 14th and par-5 15th and the clincher came on the par-5 18th after she was just short of the green in two. She finished with a 6-under 278.
Two par-saving putts on Nos. 12 and 13 were just as big as the birdies in keeping her in position for win No. 1.
"Those putts, that's when I got momentum," she said. "That was a big swing moment."
Marlene Hagge won the Sarasota Open in 1952, just 14 days after her 18th birthday. She won the Bakersfield Open two months later. Both of those tournaments were just 18-hole events.
Creamer is the youngest winner of a true LPGA tournament since Amy Alcott was one day past her 19th birthday, when she won the Orange Blossom Classic in 1975.
"They told me about that when I was signing my scorecard," Creamer said of being the second-youngest winner. "That's awesome. That's great."
The final round started in intermittent rain, but the final 2 hours were played in a steady rain and the temperature never broke 60 degrees.
"It was tough out there," said Creamer, a native of Northern California who likes playing in the rain. "The scoreboard showed how tough it was. .At one point, the lead was 3 under."
Creamer, who finished second in the ShopRite Classic last year as an amateur, is 18 years and 8 months old. Her previous best finish this year was a tie for third in the Takefuji Classic.
The $187,500 winner's share from the $1.2 million purse is almost $20,000 more than Creamer won in her eight starts this year and will move her from 19th to fourth place on the money list. Hagge won a total of $575 for her two wins in the LPGA's third year of existence.
Jeong Jang (67) and 2002 Sybase champion Gloria Park (71) tied for second at 279, one shot in front of Christina Kim (73), who led or shared the lead after each of the first three rounds.
Heather Bowie (72) and Joo Mi Kim (73) finished another shot back at 281.
Creamer hit a 7-iron to tap-in distance on 14 and then pitched to within inches with her third shot on the next hole.
Jang, also looking for her first win, had three birdies in her final four holes, including a 15-footer on the 18th that brought her into a tie with Creamer.
Park made it a three-way tie for the lead with a 5-foot birdie putt on the par-4 17th. She just missed a 40-foot birdie putt on the final hole.
"I almost thought I made the birdie putt," said Park, who has been battling tendinitis in her left wrist. "The rain made the rough really, really heavy. Still, it was a great week."
Not as good as Creamer's. She hugged her parents just off the 18th green.
"They said `Congratulations, you did it.' I said, `No, we did it,"' she said. "They gave up a lot for me. It was a big hug. It was nice."
Christina Kim held a one-stroke lead over Creamer, Park and Joo Mi Kim entering the final round. Five players were tied for the lead at one point in the final round.
Michele Redman, the champion in this event in 1997, twice got within a shot of the lead on Sunday but couldn't capitalize either time.
She got to 5 under with a birdie on the par-3 4th, then double-bogeyed the par-4 5th. A birdie on the par-4 9th was followed by a bogey on the par-4 10th and a triple-bogey on the par-4 11th.
Tina Barrett matched the low round of the tournament with a closing 6-under 65. Christina Kim had a 65 on Thursday and Joo Mi Kim did it on Friday. Barrett finished at 1-under 283. ... Defending champion Sherri Steinhauer, who also won here in 1999, closed with a 70 for a 5-over 289. ... Hee-Won Han, the champion here in 2003, finished with a 71 and was at even par. ... Cristie Kerr, second on the money list and the only player in the field in the top 10, had a 69 and finished at 4-over 288.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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