Creamer (82) shoots worst score as a pro

By Randall MellApril 24, 2015, 3:17 am

DALY CITY, Calif. – Paula Creamer’s first tee shot Thursday at the Swinging Skirts Classic sailed right and into a small stand of trees.

It never came down.

Marshals and fans were left scratching their heads, wondering where it went and how it could have disappeared. After looking around, Creamer couldn’t make sense of it, either. So she took a penalty for a lost ball and headed back to the tee box.

That is not how she envisioned beginning a “homecoming week” that means so much to her. Creamer grew up in Pleasanton, just 40 miles east of Lake Merced Golf Club.

Her return home would prove a long, hard march through the first round with her husband, Derek, and her parents, Paul and Karen, and so many good friends in tow. She’s a 10-time LPGA winner, a proud competitor, and she’s so adored in these parts. That’s what made her struggle so difficult, because she wanted so hard to please all those people who came out to root for her.

Creamer opened with a triple bogey after the lost ball, made another triple bogey on her front nine, and at day’s end signed for an 82, her highest score in 11 seasons as a pro. It follows her 78 in the final round at the Lotte Championship last weekend.

“It’s very frustrating,” Creamer told after Thursday’s round. “I’m very hard on myself, but I’m a fighter. I’m very positive, and I’m going to keep fighting.”

That’s what this is now for Creamer, a fight. At 28, she’s in a place she has never been. Creamer’s in transition, not just with a new swing, but with new equipment and a completely new life as a newlywed.

She has slid to No. 27 in the world rankings, her lowest position since the rankings debuted in 2006.

“Right now, it’s right between my ears,” Creamer said. “I’m not afraid to talk about it. It’s 99 percent mental.”

Last year was such an emotionally complicated year for Creamer. She roared through a high in her personal life and a frustrating low in her professional life.

Creamer married Derek Heath, a United Airlines pilot, in December. She called her wedding “a perfect day, everything I imagined and more.” The couple honeymooned in New Zealand and Bora Bora.

As a player, last season wasn’t what Creamer imagined it would be.

Though she won at year’s start, Creamer slipped to 22nd on the LPGA money list at year’s end, the lowest finish of her career. She saw her streak of consecutive cuts made end at 82 when she failed to make the weekend at Kingsmill. She also missed her first cut in a major as a pro when she didn’t make the weekend at the LPGA Championship.

Most revealing of all, Creamer finished 51st in greens in regulation. Consistently one of the game’s best iron players, she led the tour in GIR in ’09. She never finished worse than seventh in that category in her first eight years on tour.

What’s happening?

It appears to be a complicated equation. There’s a swing change and its evolution at work. There are new irons in the bag resulting from that swing change. There’s also evolving priorities as a wife with a new lifestyle.

About that swing change ...

Before last year, Creamer went searching for more distance. She huddled with her long-time swing coach, David Whelan, and they went to work changing her swing with her driver. The descending blow that made Creamer such a strong iron player created too much spin with her driver. They worked on getting her to swing more up on the ball with her driver.

“When you’re trying to improve one area, you can sacrifice another,” Whelan said. “It was always a gamble.”

Creamer struggled with it most of last year.

“For a while, I had two different swings,” Creamer said. “They would cross.”

Complicating that was the unique design of Creamer’s irons. She routinely had her irons bent to be 3 degrees weaker than a standard iron. That made a 7-iron more like a strong 8-iron. It helped her hit higher shots. With the swing change, and with technology changing the nature of the bounce of her new irons, Creamer struggled making the same crisp strikes.

“I got better with my driver, but I was working so hard on driver I almost lost my iron swing,” Creamer said. “My strike was all over the place.”

Creamer didn’t realize how her new swing was affecting the nature of the bounce on irons bent to be “weaker.” She didn’t realize it until her caddie, Colin Cann, pointed it out last year.

“It was almost like my irons were bouncing and skidding,” Creamer said. “Even my friends told me my irons didn’t sound the same. They weren’t as crisp.”

Creamer tried to fix that this year switching out her TaylorMade RSi irons, keeping the newest set to standard lofts. She likes the fit now, and she believes these last two rounds notwithstanding, she’s honing a better game.

“It’s just that right now, my misses are a little bit bigger but my good shots are very good,” Creamer said.

Lake Merced, with its tree-lined fairways and cabbage-like rough, punished Creamer’s bigger misses in Thursday’s round. Creamer’s stats weren’t actually bad. She hit 11 fairways, only missed seven greens, but her bigger misses led to those two triple bogeys and four bogeys. She didn’t make a single birdie putt.

Creamer believes her swing is better than it was last year, but she knows there’s lost confidence to be won back working through these changes.

“It’s frustrating, but I’m staying positive,” Creamer said.

The frustration is compounded wanting the changes to come together this homecoming week.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.