GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - Paula Creamer couldn't resist.
After completing her pro-am round Thursday for the ShopRite LPGA Classic, the 25-year-old dropped a golf ball about 15 feet from the 18th hole at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club and stroked a putt that stopped at the edge of the cup.
"I try that putt every time I come here," Creamer said with a laugh. "I can't help it. I keep thinking about the first time I tried it and I always say to myself, 'Why didn't I play enough break?' "
If she had made that putt eight years ago, she also may have made history.
Creamer, who is among 144 golfers competing in the $1.5 million tournament today through Sunday, competed in the ShopRite Classic in 2004 as a 17-year-old high school junior who received a sponsor's exemption. She nearly became the youngest-ever LPGA Tour tournament winner, missing a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole by a fraction of an inch to finish in a second-place tie with Giulia Sergas, one stroke behind Cristie Kerr.
The ShopRite Classic always has been special for Creamer, who owns nine career victories and is No. 13 on the Rolex world rankings. Two years ago, she returned to the tour at the Classic after undergoing surgery on her left thumb and finished seventh.
"This tournament has always been special to me," Creamer said. "And I really like the course. I've always managed to play pretty well here and hopefully I can put together three good rounds again this year and have a chance to win."
She will face stiff competiton. The ShopRite Classic field is filled with top-ranked players, former champions and promising newcomers.
Twenty-one of the top 25 players in the Rolex rankings are in the tournament, including No. 1 Yani Tseng. The 23-year-old Taiwan native and Orlando, Fla., resident has succeeded three-time ShopRite Classic champion Annika Sorenstam and then Lorena Ochoa as the LPGA's most dominant player. Tseng, who lives in Sorenstam's old house in Orlando, already has won three tournaments this season and leads the tour with a 69.5 scoring average. She has held the top spot on the Rolex rankings for 68 weeks.
"The pressure is there, but I try to turn the pressure into motivation and I think that it's a good pressure," Tseng said Thursday. "I don't feel I'm like Annika or Lorena. I think I still have a long way to go to get to their level. I wish I can be like them one day and I'm working on it. There are so many great players on tour that you're always learning from each other and pushing each other to get better."
She's hoping for a much better outcome than she had in her last tournament.
Tseng lost in the third round of the Sybase Match Play Championship to Candie Kung two weeks ago at Hamilton Farm Golf Club in Gladstone and left the course in tears.
"I was crying and I was just very disappointed," Tseng said. "It's been quite a long time since I've felt that way. So I came back home to see my coach (Gary Gilchrist) the next day and now I feel good. It's exciting to have a tournament again this week and to see how good I can be."
Kerr is among six former Classic champions in the field this weekend, along with Janice Moody (2000), Angela Stanford (2003), Seon Hwa Lee (2006), Ai Miyazato (2010) and defending champion Brittany Lincicome (2011). They will try to join Juli Inkster (1986, 1988), Betsy King (1987, 1995, 2001) and Sorenstam (1998, 2002, 2005) as the only players to win it more than once. Lincicome will try to become the first player to win back-to-back ShopRite titles.
The event also features eight winners from previous tournaments this season - Tseng, Miyzatao, Stacy Lewis, Sun Young Yoo, Stanford, Jessica Korda and Azahara Munoz. Other contenders include Creamer and Suzann Pettersen.
Lewis won the LPGA's last full-field event, taking top honors in the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic on April 29.
"I haven't been very successful on this golf course, but hopefully it'll be better this year," Lewis said Thursday. "Because it's a 54-hole tournament (instead of 72), you've got to get off to a quick start. There's really not as much room for error because you don't have as much time to make it up."
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