Paula Creamer, one of the fresh faces on the LPGA Tour, is all smiles. And after a roller- coaster of a 2010 season, it's easy to see why. Creamer's year started in the worst possible way, had a storybook comeback and could end with one final win at this week's LPGA Tour Championship at Grand Cypress Resort. Now in her sixth season on tour, Creamer has won nine times. She was the LPGA rookie of the year in 2005 and has played on three Solheim Cup teams. And she's only 24 years old.
But things were not looking good in February. After an opening round 69 at the LPGA Thailand, Creamer was forced to withdraw. She snapped a tendon in her left thumb and was sidelined for four months. Creamer wasn't sure if she would come back at all.
"We definitely talked about taking a medical" waiver for the 2010 season, said Creamer, who lives in Orlando. "But my doctor was great. He didn't hold me back too long. I took a pretty good amount of time away and gave it time to heal."
She hoped to salvage the season when she came back in late June at the ShopRite LPGA Classic. Creamer did more than that. She finished seventh in her first tournament back, and a few weeks later she won the U.S. Women's Open, her first major championship.
Because of the injury, Creamer limited her season to just 14 tournaments. She was told it would take a year to feel normal again, but even with an ailing thumb she has managed to win $875,140.
"I still don't have much mobility, but my pain is a lot better," she said. "It used to be that right after I played, my hand would just blow up, and it's not doing that as much anymore. They said a year, and that would be the end of March. Hopefully from then on there won't be any pain."
The only other thing that pains Creamer now is not being one of the top golfers on tour. This week's tournament will determine who finishes as the No. 1 player in the World Golf Rankings. There are pictures of the top six players — Jiyai Shin, Suzann Pettersen, Cristie Kerr, Yani Tseng, Na Yeon Choi and Ai Miyazato — as players and spectators drive into the Grand Cypress Resort.
Creamer is currently a respectable ninth, eight places worse than she would like to be.
"It's been very hard,'' Creamer said. "I've always said I want to be the No. 1 player in the world. You drive in and see the six girls out there, that's where I want to be. I know things happen for a reason, and I'm working hard. It's starting to show in these last couple events. I'm going to push it this offseason and see what happens.''
Are we there yet?
Seminole's Brittany Lincicome makes a living playing golf. A very lucrative living at that ($651,478 earned this year). But like all people with jobs, she's looking forward to a vacation.
"After Sunday afternoon, I'm putting the clubs away and I'm not going to touch them for the rest of the month,'' the 25-year-old said from Lake Buena Vista. "I'm ready for some time off.''
This is the 23rd event Lincicome has played this season, which is about normal. But she is coming off a particularly brutal travel schedule in which she played in California, South Korea, Japan and Mexico in a one-month stretch.
In California, she opened with a career-best 61 but faded to finish in a tie for eighth. In Japan, she tied for fifth. Overall, she has six top-10 finishes including two seconds. Her earnings place her 14th on the LPGA money list.
"I think this has been my best season yet,'' said Lincicome, who has won three times in her six-year career. "I haven't won yet (this year), but I've been more consistent. Every year my goal is to be more consistent than the past year. I've had more top 10s, I've made more cuts. Players like Annika (Sorenstam) and Lorena (Ochoa) have made a pretty good living doing that.''
As for this week's tournament, Lincicome isn't so sure.
"It could either be really good,'' she said, "or it could be really bad.''
To see an interview with Lincicome, go to tampabay.com/sports/golf
Kristy McPherson is a South Carolina Gamecock with the accent to prove it. But a few years ago, she decided to pack up her clubs and move to Tampa. She was living in Orlando, home to about a million PGA and LPGA Tour players, but she found herself on I-4 most weeks to visit good friends Brittany Lincicome and Jennifer Gleason (who lives in Clearwater). "I was going over there so often that I decided to buy a house in Tampa,'' said McPherson, who lives in New Tampa and plays regularly at Avila. McPherson has played full time on the LPGA Tour since 2007. Her best year was in 2009, when she had six top 10s and earned $816,182. She was good enough to make the Solheim Cup team last year. But this year has been slightly off. The LPGA Tour Championship is her 23rd event. She has one second (Canadian Women's Open) and five top 10s . McPherson has yet to win an event, and she knows there is room for improvement in 2011. "It wasn't great, it wasn't terrible,'' McPherson, 29, said. "It was an okay year. Every year you set goals to do better, and I didn't move up in the world rankings. Didn't get a win this year, but I got one more week.''
To see an interview with McPherson, go to tampabay.com/sports/golf
What's at stake
The LPGA's three biggest awards — the money title, Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average, and player of the year — are still to be decided. Na Yeon Choi leads the money list with $1,814,558, $34,790 more than Jiyai Shin. With first place worth $225,000, they are the only players who can win. Choi leads the Vare Trophy with a scoring average of 69.77, .09 ahead of Cristie Kerr. Player of the year is based on points, and that is wide open. Two-time major winner Yani Tseng leads with 188, a nine-point lead over Ai Miyazato. Choi is in third with 174 points, followed by Kerr (173) and Shin (170). Winning the Tour Championship is worth 30 points. Choi is the only player who can sweep the awards. She also has a mathematical chance to go to No. 1 in the world.