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Paula Creamer main attraction as LPGA season starts

Paula Creamer opens her second LPGA Tour season stronger, more relaxed and with even bigger expectations. That might be bad news for her opponents in the season-opening SBS Open.

The 19-year-old Creamer won two LPGA Tour events last year, helped the United States win the Solheim Cup and also won twice in Japan. The rookie of the year finished second behind Annika Sorenstam on the money list with $1.5 million, breaking Karrie Webb's 1996 record for a rookie by about $530,000.

"I have definitely gotten longer," Creamer said. "I have new muscles and my golf swing has changed, so once in a while I can hit one pretty far out there. But it's learning how to use those muscles on a consistent basis."

Nicknamed the Pink Panther because of her passion for pink, Creamer said she was "incredibly nervous" last year when she tied for 40th in the event in her pro debut.

"Now I feel all macho because I'm a veteran now, you could say," she said. "I'm not a rookie any more. Now I know what it takes on tour to win. I'm much more relaxed, but I feel there's more pressure on myself now that I had a good year."

She said her goals for this year are to play well on majors, be more consistent and be in contention every week.

Others in the field include two rookies making their highly anticipated first starts of the year Thursday: 17-year-old Morgan Pressel, the U.S. Amateur champion and U.S. Women's Open runner-up, and 20-year-old Japanese star Ai Miyazato.

Miyazato and Pressel are among the record 37 LPGA rookies this season, topping the 33 rookies from last year.

LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens, in her first full season with the tour, said she's excited to get underway.

"I don't think the tour has been in better shape," she said. "I'm excited for the first tee shot."

Even without Michelle Wie and Sorenstam, there was plenty of buzz at Turtle Bay Resort's oceanside Palmer Course.

There are about 80 members of the media credentialed for the event, nearly half from Japan following Miyazato's every move. Last year, there were about a dozen reporters and writers, even with Wie in the field.

Tournament organizers this time had to open up the Turtle Bay Resort's ballroom as a second media and interview room.

"One of the great stories out of this is that the LPGA, by virtue of the number of stars we have, is not dependent on one person," Bivens said.

Wie is skipping the SBS to save one of the six LPGA exemptions she's allowed in 2006 for later. She will open the season at next week's Fields Open, a new LPGA Tour event at the Ko Olina Golf Club.

She turned down SBS's invite despite finishing tied for second last year. The event also is played on her home island of Oahu and sponsored by Seoul Broadcasting System, which is televising the event live in South Korea, the native country of Wie's parents.

Apparently, tournament officials were hopeful Wie would play. Her photo and bio are in the official tournament program.

Bivens promised the tour will live up to the hype generated by the young stars.

"You're going to see us take off at the top of a crescendo this year," Bivens said. "I know there are people who say, 'Is there too much hype around the LPGA?' I think we're going to exceed everyone's expectations."

Defending champion Jennifer Rosales said she wasn't aware that Wie wasn't playing, but did notice the youth movement going on in the LPGA Tour. At 27, or what she calls "3-under 30," Rosales doesn't feel like one of the younger players.

"I feel like I'm old because when I got into the tour, I was 20, one of the youngest," she said. "Now, they're getting younger and younger. ... They're more aggressive. They're more fearless."

Pressel, who was granted membership by Bivens in November, said the youngsters aren't intimidated because of the confidence in their abilities.

"We just come out with a confidence that in time, we'll learn how to win and learn how to overcome these hurdles," she said. "It's just a confidence factor we've been taught since we were kids."

Pressel said she doesn't have any specific goals like winning three tournaments or earning a set amount of money, "but I worked hard and I want to play the best I can this year and see where that puts me."

Creamer and Pressel said they were amazed by the media following Miyazato, who won the LPGA Tour qualifying school in December by a record 12-shot margin. They said the attention will be a big boost for the tour.

"It's crazy to watch," Pressel said. "There were camera crews waiting for her when she went into rookie orientation and when she came out. I feel sometimes bad for her, but she says she loves it."

Last year, the pint-sized shotmaker from Okinawa, won six tournaments on the Japan LPGA and had two top-10 finishes in six starts on the LPGA Tour.

"I have been looking forward to this tournament for a while, and I'm very satisfied with where I'm at," Miyazato said.

 

 




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