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Creamer gets in a groove; Open champ of '10 excels at Locust Hill

Paula Creamer has earned $8 million over seven years on the LPGA Tour and has nine career victories.

In many ways, she's just coming into her own as a force on the tour.

Creamer's health is the best it's been in years and she is riding the momentum from her major championship victory in the U.S. Women's Open last year.

And she's still only 24 years old.

"I feel really good with my game," Creamer said after Thursday's first round of the Wegmans LPGA Championship. "I'm hitting the ball great. I see the lines on the greens with my putts. My game is coming together. I'm figuring out a lot of things."

Creamer shot a 5-under-par 67 at Locust Hill Country Club to hold sole possession of second place behind world No. 1 Yani Tseng, who shot 66.

Creamer burst onto the LPGA Tour as an 18-year-old in 2005 and finished second on the money list as a rookie. She has been in the top 11 in earnings every year since. But it's clear she views herself in a new light since her four-shot Open win last July at the famed Oakmont Country Club course near Pittsburgh.

"It's one of the greatest things that I think has happened to me in the sense of my confidence in myself," Creamer said. "I feel like I matured so much as a golfer and a person that week. It was the hardest golf course I ever played and the fact that I won by four there shows that I can play, I can be out there, I can be the best player, and it motivates me more and more."

Creamer's performance on the big stage was a process. She had eight previous top-10 finishes in majors and let the 2008 U.S. Women's Open slip through her fingers with a final-round 78.

"It's always nice to get that under the belt," said Creamer's veteran caddie, Colin Cann. "Obviously she'd been getting that question over and over again every year. It's nice to get that monkey off your back, and to win the biggest of the four majors is icing on the cake, especially where it was -- at Oakmont. Now she's just going out and playing, enjoying it, and she'll play better if she does that."

Creamer is in better physical condition than ever. A thumb injury hindered her much of the 2009 season, and it required surgery early in 2010. She had major ligament damage repaired and had to sit out two months.

But the surgery has helped her correct some swing flaws. Swelling in the left thumb had made it difficult to get her right hand on top of her left when she gripped the club. She had to turn her right hand more to the side, and the "strong" right-hand grip caused her swing to be too flat and too narrow going back.

After the surgery she got back to a better swing plane and has regained her phenomenal ball striking.

Creamer ranks fifth in hitting greens in regulation (at 75 percent) and she's 14th in driving accuracy, hitting the fairway 82.5 percent of the time.

Creamer hit 15 of 18 greens and 10 of 14 fairways in the first round. She almost holed out a 155-yard 7-iron on the 18th hole, knocking it to 18 inches to close with her fifth birdie of the day.

The tree-lined Locust Hill course, with its tight fairways, looks like a good match for Creamer's precision game. She's not one of the long hitters on tour.

"This course suits her game," Cann agreed. "It's not overly long. You've got to keep it in play and think a little bit, and that's right up her alley."

"I know what it takes to win a major now," Creamer said. "Before I knew what it takes to win a golf tournament. When I look at people's careers, I look at their majors. How many majors they've won. I don't want to have just one. That's for sure."

Tseng, who owns three major titles and eight wins overall, picked up where she left off in the last LPGA event, which she won two weeks ago.

"I think if you put it on the fairways, you can shoot low scores on this course," Tseng said. "It's hard to put it on the fairway. The course is really narrow."

Tseng only hit 6 of 14 fairways. But because of her great length, she had enough short-iron second shots to hit 15 of 18 greens. She birdied all four par-3 holes.