Since missing the cut in her U.S. Women’s Open debut in 2003, Paula Creamer has never finished outside the top 20, a run that includes the 2010 title at Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh.
On a windy Saturday at Sebonack Golf Club, Creamer showed why she’s such a consistent contender in the national championship. The greens were firm and faster than previous rounds, the hole locations were challenging, and the aforementioned breeze off Great Peconic Bay had a mind of its own, strong and gusty. Amid this intimidating mix, Creamer cobbled together a round of two birdies and two bogeys for even-par 72, which tied for the second-best round of the day.
Only leader Inbee Park did better, making birdie at No. 18 for a 1-under 71.
Joining Creamer at 72 were Ai Miyazato, Kristy McPherson and defending champion Na Yeon Choi. At 1-over-par 217 through 54 holes, Creamer stands tied for sixth with fellow American Jessica Korda.
Unfortunately for them, they are 11 strokes behind Park, who seeks her second U.S. Women's Open and her third straight victory this year in a major championship.
"My goal was to get it under par. Obviously that's a good round out here," said Creamer, 26, of Windermere, Fla. "The pin placements were really tough. They obviously saw 9‑under was leading and they are going to make it as hard as they can, which they should. It's still fair."
For the fourth year in a row and fifth time in six years, Creamer enters the final round in the top 10, including 2010 when she closed with a 1-under 69 and captured her first major. She has had her struggles on Sunday as well, breaking par only twice. Four times she has shot 75 or higher.
She has her work cut out for her tomorrow to catch Park. Another difficult day undoubtedly awaits. Does she push it or play conservatively and see if Park and the others fall back?
"It's a little bit of both," she said. "I'm kind of far behind, so I have got to make some birdies. At the same time, this golf course is all about playing your own game. When you do have opportunities to try to capitalize on them. I had some coming down the stretch. It was unfortunate I couldn't make a birdie on that one par 5, 13. It was just up in front. Then I bogeyed the next hole. I kind of felt like I gave almost two shots away there."
Creamer, who finished as the low amateur in the 2004 championship when she tied for 13th place, went out on Saturday in 33, thanks to birdies at the second and ninth holes. The former she birdied with a hybrid to 20 feet, the latter after knocking a wedge to 4 feet. Bogeys at 11 and 14 returned her to level par for the day.
"The thing that I wish I could [do] a little bit better was make the ones that I have for birdie," said Creamer who has only converted six birdies in 54 holes. "At the same time, it all evens out. I've hit the ball really well. Like I said, if you look at my cards the last three days, I really haven't had too many mistakes. I haven't made enough birdies, but I also haven't given too many away.
"Yeah, goodness I played really solid."
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work previously has appeared on USGA websites.