MOBILE, Alabama (AP) — Paula Creamer birdied the final seven holes for a share of the first-round lead with Meg Mallon in the Tournament of Champions, ending Suzann Pettersen’s run at the top of the leaderboard at six rounds on Thursday.
Creamer and Mallon shot 5-under 67s, leaving them two strokes ahead of Pettersen, Natalie Gulbis, Pat Hurst, Mi Hyun Kim and Seon Hwa Lee.
Annika Sorenstam opened with a 71, and defending champion Lorena Ochoa shot a 74 on The Crossing Course at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail’s Magnolia Grove complex. The event is limited to tournament winners from 2004-07 and active Hall of Famers.
After making the turn at 2 over, Creamer played the back nine in 7-under 29. She began the birdie run with a 15-foot putt on the par-5 13th, then hit 7-iron shots to 5 and 8 feet on 14 and 15. Creamer two-putted from 35 feet on the par-5 16th, hit a 6-iron to 8 feet on the par-3 17th and made another 8-footer on the par-4 18th.
“It’s kind of hard to explain because the front nine I had two three putts,” Creamer said. “I was missing putts left and right. I was joking around with my caddie because this guy had a club out there. He said he found it in the woods and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s where I wanted to throw my putter right now – in the woods.’
“Then I go out and I make seven in a row. It was good. You have to hit it close to make a lot of birdies and you have to give yourself the chances for it.”
Creamer tied In-Kyung Kim for the longest birdie streak on the U.S. LPGA Tour this year. Kim birdied the first seven holes in the third round of the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic. The tour record is nine by Beth Daniel in the 1999 Philips Invitational.
“I have done six in a row a lot, but never seven. My first 29, too,” Creamer said. “Obviously, I have a ton of confidence right now coming off the back nine that I played. I am feeling good.”
Pettersen is coming off consecutive victories in South Korea and Thailand and has won three of her last four starts. She’s second behind Ochoa with five tour victories this year and earnings of $1,753,309 (1,195,500). Entering week, the Norwegian had at least a share of the lead in six straight rounds and nine of 12.
“I had a week off. I feel a little rusty,” Pettersen said. “I want to get in the groove again, get in the rhythm and play competitive. The good shots are good. I don’t quite feel as comfortable with some of my irons, but I’m going to work on that now.”
She eagled the par-4 ninth, holing out from 94 yards.
“I hit a pretty good drive straight down the middle, and I had 94 to the pin, a perfect gap wedge,” Pettersen said. “I hit it a little bit right. I lost it down to the left and it fell straight down in the hole.”
The 44-year-old Mallon, winless since 2004, matched Creamer with seven birdies and two bogeys.
“Even though I did well today, I felt like I could hit it better,” Mallon said. “So, I’m going to go out and practice a good bit this afternoon and hit a lot of good balls. Just try to get a good swing groove going so that I can keep that consistency. It’s nice to make all of those putts today. I would certainly like to hit it closer the next three days so I have more opportunities, but, you know, it was all cylinders today. It was nice. I must have been inspired. I don’t know.”
The start of play was delayed an hour because of frost.
“That extra hour was a huge bonus,” said Mallon, who birdied three of her last four holes. “I bet it warmed up 15 degrees (F) from the time when I got here to when I could tee off. Fifty degrees as opposed to 35 is a huge difference.”
Ochoa, already the player of the year, has won seven times this season and earned a record $3,337,993 (2,276,000). Last year at Magnolia Grove, the Mexican star had weekend rounds of 63 and 65 for a 10-stroke victory and 21-under 267 total, both tournament records.
“I’m a little behind now, but I’ll try to play good tomorrow and get back to a good position on the weekend,” Ochoa said.
Sorenstam, sidelined for nearly two months this season by neck and back injuries, is winless since September 2006.
“I thought I played well today,” Sorenstam said. “I had a lot of good shots, had a lot of opportunities. I don’t think I scored as well. I felt really good about my game. I hit a lot of fairways a lot of greens and just had a lot of opportunities.”
Gulbis is making her first appearance in the event after winning the Evian Masters.