Paula Creamer: Pink panther

Paula Creamer's mix of femininity and ferocity threatens to upstage Michelle Wie at Royal Birkdale
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Creamer, now 18 and winner last week of the Evian Masters has, quite remarkably, ticked off her first three targets and this week, at Royal Birkdale, has the chance to make it a full house when she competes in the season's last major, the Weetabix Women's British Open championship, starting tomorrow.

Although she has been a professional for only 11 months, the Evian was her second tournament win (the Sybase Classic in New York was her first), she has become a certainty for Rookie of the Year, moved to ninth place in the Solheim Cup table - the top 10 are automatically in the team - and in the process become a dollar millionaire. All that and attractive with it, too.

Creamer could hardly be further removed from the stodgy and outdated tweed skirt and cardigan image associated with women's golf. Long legs, that rise to that combination of skirt and short shorts nowadays called a skort, plus a feminine predilection for pink, make for an attractive package.

"I always wear something pink," she said after the second round of the Evian, although on that occasion, after scanning the combination of black short and black shirt, it was not immediately obvious what it could be. "My spikes," she grinned, and pink they were. When she represents her country, as she did in the Curtis Cup at Formby last year, the spikes were red, white and blue, as was her uniform, obviously, but the ribbon that tied up her hair at the back was pink.

It was at the Curtis Cup that Europe first witnessed Creamer's talent. The drums were beating for the then 14-year-old Michelle Wie, but even then it was apparent who had the better all-round game. Wie was prodigious off the tee, but somewhat shaky around the greens, although she had often overawed her opponent by the time they got there.

Creamer was proficient through the bag. She was asked during that event how far she would be behind Wie off the tee, on average. The questioner was expecting a modest admission of say 20 to 30 yards, but instead got something of a glare. "I'm up there when I need to be," she said tartly, and there is an undoubted rivalry between them.

One veteran American sports writer, who has spent most of the season following the mayhem created by Annika Sorenstam on the LPGA tour, has also seen much of the progress made by Creamer and the waves created by Wie whenever the Hawaiian plays. He says: "Paula has a chip on her shoulder about the attention Michelle gets when she has done far less. But having said that, it's a healthy chip. They're both great girls at heart."

Creamer can be summed up as pert. The dictionary definition of the word, as it applies to dress, says: "Neat, with a suggestion of jauntiness," and she might further be called pertinacious, the definition this time being "stubborn, persistent, obstinate in a course of action".

Creamer dresses well and her walk between shots might well be described as jaunty. There is an air about her which, with her head always held high, she probably cultivates. Of course, if you carry yourself in that manner it really, really helps if you can play- and Creamer can.

Her win in the Evian was against the best field a women's event can muster and after three rounds she had created a seven-shot lead for herself. But winning from that position is not always easy, the pressure coming from the fact that if you do not, you will attract, among other unpleasant epithets, the word "choker." In fact, Creamer had already lost an event only five weeks earlier which she led by five shots with only eight holes to play. But Creamer was able to take comfort from the fact that the winner, Lorena Ochoa, played those eight holes in seven under, a truly incredible burst of golf.

She had that experience in mind when she went out for the final round of the Evian, saying: "I know anything can happen because when Lorena won it was the best golf I've ever seen. So I'm going to start out as if everyone is at zero and then get a lead as big as I can and as fast as I can."

That shows a mature mind on the shoulders of the youngest player ever to win a European Tour event and it shows the value of having learnt to win at lower levels. During her college days Creamer played in American Junior Golf Association events - and won 19 of them.

She knows what it takes to win and her record since turning professional would appear to justify Tiger Woods' comments about golf's other precocious teenager, Wie. Woods has said repeatedly that he believes the Hawaiian would be better off competing against girls of her own age, and learning the art of winning.

Wie, of course, dismisses what most would regard as wise words. When Tiger's comments were put to her at the LPGA Championship in Maryland in June she said to the assembled hacks: "You guys all write for grown-up papers, don't you? You wouldn't want to go back and write for the school newspaper, would you?" It was not really a very good analogy, but was good enough to shut everyone up.

Wie finished second in the Evian, but miles behind and never remotely in contention. She finished second in the LPGA championship as well (to Sorenstam) but again was never in the hunt and on the one occasion she was in the lead this year, in the US Women's Open championship, after three rounds, she fell apart and took 82. Maybe a little practice at winning among her peers might not be a bad thing.

If she did start to win it would at least give a little more credence to some of her more audacious statements, like the one revealed in Sports Illustrated last week. Wie told a sports psychologist that: "I want to make a statement to all women that there are no limitations. If I can drive the ball 300 yards, if I can compete against men, if I can make it to the Masters, then maybe I can inspire them to break free in their own lives." Wow, Wie.

Creamer is not given to earthshaking pronouncements, but she confident in her ability. "Before I hit my first professional ball," she says, "I knew that I wanted to win a major this year, it was one of my goals. Now there is just one more left."

Teenage talents: The women making waves in world sport

* LAURE MANAUDOU

Swimming

Age: 18

Won women's 400m freestyle in Athens - the first Frenchwoman to win Olympic swimming title. Also won silver in 800m freestyle and bronze in 100m backstroke. In November set a new short-course world record for 1500m freestyle.

* MARIA SHARAPOVA

Tennis

Age: 18

The Russian phenomenon was spotted in a tournament in Moscow in 1992, and in 1995 moved to Miami to join the Bollettieri Academy. Sharapova beat the favourite, Serena Williams, to win Wimbledon in 2004 and become a world star.

* CATALINA

PONOR

Gymnastics

Age: 17

Won silver medals on the floor, the beam and team event at 2003 World Championships and improved these to gold in the 2004 Europeans. Then she repeated the feat at the Athens Olympics - and was only gymnast to win three golds there.

* BETHANY HAMILTON

Surfing

Age: 15

Despite an attack by a 14-foot tiger shark in October 2003 which left her with a severed arm, Bethany went on to win fifth place at US National Surfing Championships later that year and secure a place on the US national team.

* EMILY

PIDGEON

Cross-country Age: 16

In 2004 set European Under- 14 bests for the mile and 5,000m, and British Under-17 bests indoors for 3,000m and outdoors at 2,000m steeplechase. Won U20/U17 European cross-country trial for second successive year.

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