OAKMONT, Pa. - Paula Creamer wondered a few months ago if she would ever play golf again the way her badly injured left thumb was hurting.
What she couldn't have possibly guessed is she would play like this.
Creamer shed the title of being the best women's golfer to not win a major, never wavering during a four-shot victory Sunday at the U.S. Women's Open in which she steadily put away a field that couldn't match her confidence or consistency.
Creamer started with a three-stroke lead, then never let it go below two shots during a 2-under 69 that gave her 3-under 281 for the tournament. Na Yeon Choi shot 5-under 66 at a softened-up Oakmont Country Club to tie Suzann Pettersen for second at 1-over 285.
"That question always lurked: 'How come you never won a major?'" said Creamer, whose thumb remained heavily bandaged during her post-tournament news conference. "Now we never have to get asked that question again. It's kind of a big relief off my shoulders."
Most of all, a big relief off a hyperextended left thumb she estimates is 60 percent healed.
Limited to 40 practice shots before each round to lessen the pounding on a thumb that was surgically repaired in March, Creamer found the best possible way to limit the discomfort: take as few strokes as possible.
Creamer, 23, faded badly in the late rounds of the past two Women's Opens, and she missed the cut at last week's Jamie Farr Classic won by Choi. But she was as strong at Oakmont as her thumb is weak, with earlier rounds of 72, 70 and 70.
She had to be; after all, she punished that thumb by playing 52 holes the final two days, 23 on Sunday, because of Friday's heavy rain that slowed some of the fastest, trickiest greens in golf and created better scores.
"I was in pain, but I was trying to do everything to not think about it," Creamer said. "It shows you how much the mental side of golf can really take over."
With Creamer's lead briefly down to two strokes, her two biggest confidence-building shots might have been long, par-saving putts on Nos. 7 and 8 - even as Choi was charging with the tournament's second-best round. Song-Hee Kim had 65 on Sunday and finished 13th.
Creamer had four birdies and two bogeys, all but wrapping it up by hitting to within 10 feet out of the thick rough on the par-4 14th and dropping the putt for birdie.
She hit an exceptional mid-iron to 4 feet on the 442-yard 15th and made that, too.
Right about then, she sensed a major was finally hers. Two weeks after Cristie Kerr won the LPGA Championship by 12 shots with domination, Creamer won with determination.
"Without a doubt, I've matured over the last couple of months," Creamer said. "It was hard. I've prepared for this for the last three months, and it makes everything so much better. ... It (the adversity) made me more of an adult."
Creamer stayed poised as most of the contenders around her kept tumbling, a reversal from her most recent U.S. Women's Opens.
Brittany Lang, the first-round leader with 69, climbed to within two shots before bogeys on the 15th and 16th dropped her six back at 287. Lang, Amy Yang and former world No. 1 Jiyai Shin tied for fifth at 286, one behind In Kyung Kim.
Seminole's Brittany Lincicome shot a final-round 73 to finish 11 over.
Kerr, the world's top-ranked player, tried to charge with birdies on Nos. 2 and 3 but fell back with four bogeys in the next six holes. She tied for 17th.
"I played terrible, and Paula played great," Kerr said.
Alexis Thompson, 15, tied for 10th in her fourth Women's Open despite some faulty putting.