MOBILE, Alabama (AP) — For someone who thinks she needs to hit the ball farther, Paula Creamer has sure distanced herself from the pack in the Tournament of Champions.
Seeking her second victory of the year and fourth in three seasons on the U.S. LPGA Tour, Creamer shot a 4-under 68 Saturday to increase her lead to six strokes in the event for tournament winners from 2004-07 and active Hall of Famers. (Final-round updates at LPGA.com.)
Five strokes ahead after opening rounds of 67 and 65 at Magnolia Grove, Creamer’s second straight bogey-free day pushed her to 16-under 200.
“I didn’t hit the ball as well today as I did the other days,” Creamer said. “I was kind of pulling some shots here and there. … It’s difficult when you go out there and you have such a big lead and everyone is gunning for you.”
U.S. Solheim Cup teammate Pat Hurst (68) was 10 under, and Jin Joo Hong (70) followed at 9 under. Suzann Pettersen, coming off consecutive victories in South Korea and Thailand, shot a 68 to join Annika Sorenstam (70) and Birdie Kim (66) at 8 under.
“Today was my best day,” Pettersen said. “Yesterday, because of the shots I made, I am mentally exhausted. Everything was so quick, and I couldn’t feel my body. So I tried to swing really slow. That is what I did this morning. That’s what I’ve done all day. It feels much better now. I have to go low tomorrow.”
Sorenstam is trying to win for the first time since September 2006.
“It seems like Paula is playing some great golf,” Sorenstam said. “I left some shots out there. I’m actually disappointed with my round today. I felt like I should have been a lot better. But again it’s consistent. I’m shooting under par, so I got to take something positive out of it, but I’m far from happy.”
Creamer, the SBS Open winner in February, birdied the par-4 18th for the third straight day, chipping in after missing the green from 105 yards.
“I thought it was definitely makable,” Creamer said. “I felt like I’m either going to make it or it’s going to be very close. It was straight uphill. A pretty easy simple chip. It’s one of those things that you hit just an awful wedge and then you chip in, and it’s like, ‘What’s going on here?”’
The 21-year-old Californian hit 9-irons to 2 and 11 feet to set up birdies on Nos. 5 and 12, and also birdied the 15th after hitting a 7-iron to 8 feet.
“I know I can make a lot of birdies out here,” Creamer said. “It’s just hitting fairways and greens and kind of making them chase you at the same time. I want to go as low as I can tomorrow. Six shots is a lot, but I was nine behind in Thailand and I came back and lost by two. So, it’s one of those things that you just have to keep moving forward one hole at a time and try to make as many birdies as you can.”
She birdied the last seven holes Thursday and has played the back nine in 14 under.
“Hopefully, tomorrow I can play a little bit better on the front nine, so we don’t have to rely so much on the back nine,” Creamer said. “It just sets up really well for my eye. Coming down the stretch, 16, 17 and 18, those are really good holes.”
Natalie Gulbis (67) and Seon Hwa Lee (67) were 6 under, and defending champion Lorena Ochoa (68) was another stroke back.
“You can make a lot of birdies on this golf course,” Gulbis said. “As far as catching 12 or 14 under, you don’t expect those players to come back at all. You’ll need something really special to go and catch her.”
Already the player of the year, Ochoa has won seven times this season and earned a record $3,337,993 (2,274,759). Last year on The Crossings Course, she had weekend rounds of 63 and 65 for a 10-stroke victory and 21-under 267 total, both tournament records.
“Well, only one player is far ahead,” Ochoa said. “I’m always positive. I’m going to try to get a good start tomorrow on the front nine and hopefully I can play well. … For some reason, I’ve struggled with the first three or four holes. I really want to change that tomorrow. If I get a good start, I can shoot a low round.”