GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - Even fellow LPGA players on adjacent tee boxes were looking over to see who was behind the large crowds.

The answer was easy.

Some of the most talented and popular players in the world went off in back-to-back-to-back tee times early Saturday afternoon at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

Former U.S. Open Women's Open Champ Paula Creamer played alongside crowd favorite Natalie Gulbis and fellow major champ Suzann Pettersen at 12:10 p.m.

World No. 1 player Yani Tseng teed off 10 minutes later with former major champ Morgan Pressel and defending Classic champion Brittany Lincicome.

And at 12:30, 17-year-old phenom Lexi Thompson teed off with former major champ Cristie Kerr and Ai Miyazato, who is No. 3 on the season's money list.

"Probably 60 percent of the crowds are watching these three groups," said Chuck Filling, a 19-year-old Galloway Township native. "It's nice how they did it. You can just pick a spot and watch all three groups come through."

Filling, who plays golf for Richard Stockton College's golf club team, was watching the tournament with his younger brother, Chris, a member of the Absegami High School golf team .

Some groups played in front of galleries of only around a dozen people.

But the first three groups had galleries numbering in the hundreds.

"The last three groups were pretty strong, so there were a lot of people out here," Creamer said after signing her scorecard. "I love playing in front of a lot of people. They love their golf up here, so it's exciting.

"They've been such a big supporter of the LPGA here and it's nice to have everybody be able to come out and watch us."

Creamer and company were greeted after their round by adoring fans, including 11-year-old Kathy Rykowski of Westchester County, N.Y., and her dad, Paul.

Kathy makes earrings for a hobby. She made and presented Creamer (nicknamed the Pink Panther) with a pair of dangling pink metal mesh earrings before her round that Creamer said she may wear today in the final round.

"Pink is my favorite color, too," said Rykowski, smiling ear-to-ear after getting Creamer and Gulbis to sign her hat. "I made them for her."

It was the second time Rykowski has met Creamer, who enters today's final round tied for third at 5-under-par, seven strokes behind fellow American Stacy Lewis.

"It was a lot of fun," Rykowski said. "I like seeing her hit in person rather than just on TV. You can't see her all the time in person."

The gallery was loaded with young girls like Rykowski, who golfs quite a bit during the summer.

"I like watching all of the young girls because that was me," Pressel said. "It continues to grow. Every week we see more kids. It's great.

"We had pretty good crowds all day. Between the group behind us and the group in front of us and us, there were big crowds. It was neat to be in one of those pairings. It was a lot of fun."

Twins Shawn and Shane Rocca, 27, of North Cape May recently took up golf and play at Stone Harbor Golf Club. The Roccas are scallopers with Atlantic Capes Fisheries.

"I was hoping Paula would slip me her number," Shawn said with a smile. "She's a 10. She's even better looking in person."

Shane agreed, "I love golf and I'll be honest, they are beautiful girls. What's better than that?"

Gulbis, who previously had her own television show and is among the better-known players on tour, knows she has a diverse fan base.

"I hope we attract a lot of new fans, a little bit of everybody," said Gulbis, who missed the cut with a two-day score of 8-over-par. "We have had great galleries the last couple of days. It's been fun being back in Atlantic City.

"We've had a lot of people come out to support us and even though it's only the second day, we had a really good following in our group."

Contact John O'Kane:

609-272-7210