GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Eight days made all the difference for Paula Creamer.
The LPGA fan favorite described herself as “distraught” after missing the cut at an event last weekend.
On Saturday at the $1.5 million ShopRite LPGA Classic, she was all smiles after putting herself in position for her first LPGA victory in three years.
Creamer and In-Kyung Kim are tied for the Classic lead heading into Sunday’s final round with 36-hole totals of 9-under-par 133. Both Creamer and Kim shot the exact same scores on the par-71 Bay Course at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club — 66 Friday and 67 Saturday.
“It’s been a while, that’s for sure,” Creamer, 30, said after she finished her Saturday round. “I feel good. I feel prepared. I knew there was a time I was going to kind of breakthrough. Whatever happens (Sunday) happens, but I feel like my golf game is in a good place.”
First-round leader and two-time Classic defending champion Anna Nordqvist faded a bit Saturday. Sh e shot 71 after her opening round 64 and was tied for third with a 36-hole total of 7-under 135. Nordqvist’s even-par round broke her streak of seven-straight scores in the 60s at ShopRite.
“I feel like I played a little bit better than I scored,” Nordqvist said. “I’m still in it. It was just a hard afternoon with the wind.”
Nordqvist remains optimistic about Sunday’s final round.
“I feel like I’m hitting the shots I need to hit,” she said. “It’s just a matter of making a few more putts. I have nothing to lose.”
Seventy-six players shot 3-over 145 or better to make the cut to Sunday’s final round. The leaders will tee off at 1:10 p.m.
The focus will be on Creamer.
She’s struggled this year, missing the cut in three events and withdrawing after the first round in another because of a left wrist injury.
One of the missed cuts came last week when she missed it by a shot at the LPGA Volvik Championship in Michigan.
“I actually played really well last week,” she said. “I was just distraught. But I’ve missed a cut and won right after, and my dad reminded me of that.”
Saturday’s second round began with clouds and some rain. It ended with bright sunshine. As is almost always the case, the wind picked up in the afternoon making the Bay Course play tougher. Creamer teed off at 1:20 p.m.
“I like playing a little tougher conditions,” she said.
Creamer drew some of the day’s biggest galleries. Fans shouted, “Let’s go Paula” and “C’mon Paula” to encourage her. Creamer pumped her fist after sinking some of her birdie putts.
“I think it was just staying steady and giving myself an opportunity,” she said.
Creamer had some excitement at her final hole — the 477-yard, par-5 ninth. She took an unplayable lie after her second shot landed just below a mound of fescue. But after an excellent chip shot, she rolled a 7-foot putt left to right into the hole to save par and stay tied for the lead.
“That will make dinner taste a little bit better tonight,” she said.
Kim has her own struggles in 2017. This is just her sixth event this year. She said she injured herself in a fall last offseason and needed time to heal and get her game tournament ready.
Kim usually plays well at Seaview. She finished tied for sixth last year and tied for fifth in 2013. On Wednesday as she does each year, Kim gave a clinic on the Seaview driving range for children from Special Olympics New Jersey.
“I just love coming here,” she said. “I have a good relationship with Special Olympics New Jersey. It’s been our third year doing the clinic and the same athletes come. It’s kind of nice to see them coming back.”
Kim, 28, is seeking her fifth LPGA victory. She won the Reignwood LPGA Classic last October.
“For me,” Kim said, “just playing my best is my goal. Winning is a bonus and not in my control anyway.”
Creamer hasn’t won since the HSBC Women’s Champions in March 2014. She first wowed women’s golf when she finished tied for second as a 17-year-old amateur at the 2004 Classic.
Creamer has 10 LPGA career wins, including the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open. She has been ranked as high as No. 4 in the world. But Creamer entered the Classic ranked 115th. She has spent the past year working on her game with new coach Gary Gilchrist.
“I’ve had some pretty bad sad moments,” she said. “I love this game. I love working hard. I still have such a drive and a passion for getting back to where I want to be.”
She can take a big step in that direction Sunday.