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Clear shot at a major

Paula Creamer has labored in others’ shadows, but the rising young star is ready to take the next step.

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. - With Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam casting the long shadows at this week's McDonald's LPGA Championship, even a rising star like Paula Creamer will be lucky to get much attention.

She ought to get plenty. At 21, yet already in her fourth year on the LPGA, Creamer is no longer the teenage phenom who was best known for her catchy collection of pink outfits that earned her the nickname "Pink Panther."

With six wins to her credit, including two this year, Creamer has climbed to No. 3 on the money list ($891,804) and No. 4 in the world rankings, plus starred for the U.S. team in the Solheim Cup, the women's version of the Ryder Cup.

Of the LPGA's crop of young stars, which includes Natalie Gulbis, Morgan Pressel and Brittany Lang, Creamer has had the most success and arguably shows the most promise. Indeed, if Ochoa proves to be the Tiger Woods of women's golf for the next decade or so, as many believe she will, it is Creamer who is most often mentioned as her potential Phil Mickelson-style rival.

Even at such a young age, the only glaring omission from Creamer's resume is a major championship title, a detail not lost on her or the media as she settles in at Bulle Rock for the second major of the year.

"The fact that this week's a major, I'm just going to go into it like any other tournament," Creamer said yesterday, no doubt trying to convince herself. "I've been able to win under pressure, so there's no reason why I can't win a major."

This is not some new, boastful thinking for Creamer. She has been thinking, and playing, like a star since she was knee-high to Nancy Lopez. When Creamer was growing up as a promising junior player in California, she persuaded her parents - her father was an airline pilot - to move to Florida so she could attend the David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Bradenton. She went on to win 19 national titles as an amateur.

Unfortunately for Creamer, just as she seemed to be receiving the attention she deserved, an even younger, flashier new kid appeared on the block - Michelle Wie. Suddenly, Creamer was old news.

As Wie talked of wanting to play against the men on the PGA Tour, not the ladies on the LPGA Tour, Creamer, like many of her peers, seethed and suffered, and not always in silence.

At the 2003 U.S. Women's Open, where she played as an amateur, Creamer was asked how she felt about all the media hype surrounding Wie.

"It gets old," she said.

Two years later, in 2005, as an LPGA Tour rookie who was four days shy of graduating from high school, Creamer sank a 17-foot putt on the final hole to win the Sybase Classic, making her the youngest winner of a multi-round event in LPGA history (18 years, 9 months, 17 days). Two months later, she won the Evian Masters in France by 8 shots.

If Creamer's record to date in majors means anything, her best shot at winning one could be here, this week.

In her three full years as a pro, Creamer's two best finishes in majors have come in the McDonald's LPGA Championship, since it moved to Bulle Rock: a tie for third in 2005, when she was a rookie, and a tie for sixth last year. Her only other top 10 in a major was a tie for sixth in last year's major finale, the British Open, won by Ochoa.

Yesterday, Creamer did not deny that she thinks her time is coming. She has studied how Sorenstam and now Ochoa close the deal, she has learned patience, she has learned not to fire at sucker pin positions, and she has learned that 10-under par, not 20-under, is usually enough to win a major.

"I really feel that now I've matured a lot over the couple of years being out on tour," Creamer said. "I've always thought I could win a major. There was never any doubt in my mind. There is no reason why I can't. It's just a matter of time."

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