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Teen golf rivalry spices up Womens Open

Major tourney brings Paula Creamer, Michelle Wie to Pumpkin Ridge's tricky course

The future will be on display this week at the U.S. Women's Open at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club.

But fans shouldn't fixate on Michelle Wie, the long-hitting 13-year-old Hawaiian, because she won't be the top-ranked junior in the tournament, which starts Thursday.

Sixteen-year-old Paula Creamer has won eight of the last 10 national junior tourneys she has entered. She beat Wie by 10 strokes in qualifying for the 2002 U.S. junior girls championship. Playing 36 holes with Wie in the Open qualifier at Orlando on June 9, Creamer shot 144, Wie 147.

Creamer, whom Golfweek/Titleist lists as the No. 1-ranked junior girl, stands idly by as reporters go gaga over Wie.

'It only motivates me more to beat her and other players,' says Creamer, who is from Pleasanton, Calif., and attends Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton, Fla. 'I use it to my advantage.'

But, she adds, 'There are so many good players out there, it's sad that only one girl gets to show it, when there are so many out there who are better than her.'

Granted, Creamer has three years on Wie, a nearly 6-foot phenom who has been known to pound out 300-yard drives. But, enough of Wie already, Creamer's father says.

'There are a lot of talented young kids out there who aren't getting the attention,' says Paul Creamer, an American Airlines pilot who moved with his wife to Florida to be close to their daughter. 'Then again, when they're 26 and 29, who's going to care?

'They might play each other for the next 30 years. It could be a great rivalry.'

Creamer and Wie were paired in the 36-hole Open qualifier. Creamer's father caddied for his daughter and wants to dispel one myth. 'She's not averaging 300-yard drives,' he says of Wie. 'She's not as long as the media says. She can hit it 300.'

Paula Creamer, who is several inches shorter than Wie, averages about 265 off the tee, with her long drives going 285. 'She's a big girl,' Creamer says of Wie. 'She should hit it long.'

Creamer wants to finish in the top 20 this week. She has entered two LPGA tournaments under sponsors' exemptions and made the cut both times, finishing tied for 71st in the Asahi Ryokunen and tied for 67th in the Wegmans Rochester. 'I can say I never missed a cut. Tiger (Woods) missed his first seven' as an amateur, she says.

Wie has one up on Creamer, though: She's already played in the final group in a major, the Kraft Nabisco, finishing tied for ninth.

One golfer calls her 'the Big Wiesy,' playing off her swing and likeness to Ernie 'the Big Easy' Els. One writer calls her entourage 'the Wie Are Family Tour.'

Wie, coming off winning the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links, made the cut at the ShopRite Classic last weekend and enters the Open with more hype than Annika Sorenstam.

'I enjoy extreme media attention and gallery attention,' Wie told The Honolulu Advertiser.

'It's certainly bigger than when I was 10, 11 or 12,' she adds. 'I like getting more attention. I like the challenging questions. I just like the pressure because you have to answer in seconds or you're labeled as a stupid person.'

Wie has stated goals of attending Stanford, playing on the LPGA and PGA tours and playing in the Masters. 'I think it could be pretty cool,' she says, of playing in a men's event. 'I would just have to come in with a mask and a beard and try to look like I'm 20 years older.'

Against men, she says, 'I'm just thinking, just make the cut.' Against women, 'I think that I have a chance to win.'

Notes: Rachel Teske, before taking last weekend off, won back-to-back LPGA tournaments, making her the hottest golfer entering the Open. Just ask her husband, who anoints Teske as Australia's best player, now that Karrie Webb is slumping with her putter and short game. 'Rachel gets no recognition in Australia compared to Karrie,' Dean Teske tells the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle. If you know the players on the circuit, he says, there's hardly any difference in ability between Karrie and Rachel.

'Rachel might have actually passed her in the past two years,' he says. Of course, Webb has won six majors and Teske none. Dean Teske goes on: 'Annika gets the press. She's probably the best player at the moment, but there's four or five girls just as good as her.' Of course, Sorenstam has 45 career wins, including five majors; Teske has eight career wins. É

Sorenstam remembers 1997 at Pumpkin Ridge, when she tried to win her third Open in a row. 'For me, that was a lot of attention, and I couldn't even handle it,' she says. É Juli Inkster, defending U.S. Women's Open champ, on Pumpkin Ridge: 'It is one of the longest, (nearly) 6,600 yards. You have to hit good irons there.' É JD Mowlds, director of golf at Pumpkin Ridge, predicts 6-under par will win the tournament. The toughest holes on the par-71, 6,550-yard course will be Nos. 14 and 18, he says. The par-4, 394-yard 14th Ñ shortened from a par 5 Ñ has a small green surrounded by a lake on the left, a wetland in the back and a slope on the right. No. 18, a 502-yard par 5, is 'visually intimidating' because golfers must drive over a marshy area. The 18th 'could make or break the tournament,' Mowlds says.

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