. No Minneapolis Monster: U.S. Women's Open shaping up as a birdie bash with Paula Creamer stalking first major

EDINA, Minn. - Paula Creamer stands at 3 under in a U.S. Women's Open. She beat the rival she grew up watching, Annika Sorenstam, by a whopping five strokes in the women's edition of the USGA's dream TV threesomes. And still she can't help but lament the birdies that got away in suburban Minneapolis.

If the first round of the 68th U.S. Women's Open is any indication of how the biggest tournament in the women's game is going to go, that could grow into a pattern for everyone at Interlachen Country Club. For on day one, 3 under only turned out to be good enough for a tie for seventh place.

With relative unknown and winless Korean Ji Young Oh and 39-year-old veteran Pat Hurst shooting matching 6-under 67s on a dry, largely welcoming old Donald Ross track to share the first-round lead, and 32 players total shooting under par (the most in nine years), this Women's Open looks like a birdie battle heading into this morning's second round.

Which left any of the big names that didn't get in on the act more than a little bummed.

"I was disappointed it wasn't me," said world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa, who is 1-for-2 in majors this year and now six shots back in the Open after an opening 73. "It was playing easy in the morning."

That's when Ochoa and Oh played. But it was the second-year player who suffered a disappointing finish to her 2007 rookie season who seized the opportunity with bullet approach shot after bullet approach shot.

All seven of Oh's birdie putts measured less than 12 feet and many were one and two footers as she fired at the flag with the accuracy of a cruise missile.

"It was more easier for me today," said Oh, who despite still working on her English had the courage to answer many questions with only minimal help from a translator. "It was a lot of fun."

Not for everyone. Sorenstam - who's playing her last U.S. Women's Open in a while (she concedes she'll probably come back to play in an Open or two after being "retired" for a few years) - struggled to a 2-over 75. That leaves her in a tie for 66th, hardly the stuff of sendoff storybooks.

"I can't hit any more fairways than I hit," Sorenstam said, having been undone by putting. "In fact, I think I hit them all ... I've just got to patient and stick to my game plan. I have a good plan and there's a lot of golf left."

Creamer, the 21-year-old who started her career being overshadowed by Michelle Wie and now only lacks the major championship that would validate her No. 4 world ranking, left a potentially great round out on the course. Playing in the same group with Sorenstam in the afternoon when the course was supposed to be tougher, Creamer drew the loudest cheers of the day, getting to 4 under at one point.

But bogeying both the par-5 18th and the par-5 ninth (her last hole) - two birdie holes in the USGA's new drama-geared philosophy - made Creamer settle for a 70. Still, with no big names, besides veteran Laura Davies (who also went 3 under), between Creamer and the lead, this could shape up as the breakthrough chance.

"There's no reason why I cannot win a major," Creamer said. "I believe it's just a matter of time. I think people make a bigger deal of it than it is. Especially you [reporters]. And that makes me think it's a bigger deal than what it is. I'm trying to get beyond that thinking though."

A U.S. Open course with no teeth?

Few of the best women golfers in the world made that big a deal over Interlachen. Besides some muttering about the tricky, swerving greens. This can play as the longest course in U.S. Women's Open history.

But one of the first round co-leaders practically laughed at that.

"The longest course?" Oh repeated, seemingly surprised by even the question. "Nah. I think not. I feel last year played longer. This is not too long a course."

It is long in pure yardage numbers, but five par 5s and having par set at 73 makes it a course set up for birdie chances.

Of course, it also produced a quintuple bogey. That's what Michelle Wie recorded on the par-4 ninth hole after talking about having a chance to win this major only the day before. Wie's 81 leaves her tied for 146th in the 156-player field going into an afternoon round today.

"I had a couple of bad holes," Wie said, facing one of the largest groups of reporters after her round. "... Nine was a blur. Nine just happened."

Wie also said that if she could do it over again she'd probably hit 3-wood off that ninth tee rather than the driver that started the quintuple carnage rolling. Not that she was happy with the pool table green either.

"It looks like a Pringle's chip," Wie said of the ninth green.

The weekend now looks like a possible Rocco Mediate moment to Hurst, who like the men's U.S. Open Cinderella, doesn't know how many major magic chances she has left. For Maria Jose Uribe, the defending Women's Amateur champion who only turned pro for this Open, her 4-under 69 looks like validation of the choice.

Creamer, playing with her trademark pink ribbon in her hair and a cap pulled low, swears she wasn't looking for anything. Not even to outdo Sorenstam in the same group.

"She isn't very happy with how she played obviously," Creamer said of Sorenstam. "She started off really well, but she never really got any momentum going. But I'm sure she's going to try and go as low as she can [this morning]."

What's being left unsaid in this U.S. Women's Open of red numbers is that just low might not be good enough.

June 27, 2008

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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