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Creamer Extends Lead in Alabama

2006 Mitchell Co. Tournament of ChampionsMOBILE, Ala. -- Even when things didn't go Paula Creamer's way on Saturday, it ended up fine.
For example, she missed the green at the par-4 18th hole at the Crossings Course at Magnolia Grove Golf Course, but chipped in for a birdie from right of the putting surface.
'Honestly when I was walking up there, when I looked at it, I thought it was definitely makeable,' acknowledged Creamer. 'I felt like I'm either going to make it, or it's going to be very close.'
That birdie gave her a round of 4-under 68 and a commanding six-shot lead through three rounds of the LPGA Tournament of Champions.
Creamer finished 54 holes at 16-under-par 200 and is six clear of Pat Hurst, who also shot a 68 on Saturday. Jin Joo Hong posted a 2-under 70 and is alone in third place at minus-nine.
Annika Sorenstam carded a 2-under 70 and is tied for fourth place with former U.S. Women's Open champion Birdie Kim (66) and five-time winner this season Suzann Pettersen (68). The trio is knotted at 8-under 208.
They will have their work cut out for them if they are to catch Creamer.
She collected her first birdie at the par-four fifth, then parred out for an opening nine of 35. The lack of birdies did not hurt Creamer since she made the turn with a five-shot cushion.
At the par-four 12th, Creamer ran home a 10-foot birdie putt to extend her lead to six. One hole later, Creamer hit a low second shot at the par-5 hole that ended up as a good lay up down the fairway. Creamer hit her third to 12 feet, but her birdie effort stayed above ground.
Creamer recorded her third birdie of the round at the 15th, a hole she has now birdied in every round this week. She failed again to take advantage of a par five, this time the 16th, then missed a 10-foot birdie putt at the par-3 17th.
With a surging Hurst now within five, Creamer hit a good drive down the 18th fairway. With just a wedge in her hand, Creamer sprayed her approach right of the green. Once again with a wedge, Creamer chipped in to take a six-shot lead into the final round.
'I know I can make a lot of birdies out here,' said Creamer, who has three LPGA Tour wins, including this year's SBS Open at Turtle Bay. 'It's just hitting fairways and greens, and kind of making them chase you at the same time. I want to go as low as I can tomorrow.'
Six shots is a large margin, but Creamer does not have a great record with the 54-hole lead. Saturday marked the fifth time in her LPGA Tour career that Creamer grabbed a piece of the 54-hole lead, but only once did she make it to the winner's circle.
'I really feel that I've played good this week,' said Creamer, who shared second here last year. 'I just need to close it out with one more round.'
Hurst tallied only one bogey and eight pars on her front side, but caught fire on the back, starting with a 20-foot birdie putt at 10. She rattled off four consecutive birdies from the 13th, with only one coming from inside 10 feet.
Things were not all great for Hurst on Saturday. She had good looks at birdie at both 17 and 18, but Hurst will be in Sunday's final group with Creamer and has not abandoned hope.
'Anything can happen,' acknowledged Hurst. 'I lost a tournament to Annika with 10 shots. She's playing well. I have to go out there and do the best I can.'
Natalie Gulbis and Seon Hwa Lee both fired rounds of five-under 67 and are tied for seventh place at minus-6.
LPGA Player of the Year and defending champion Lorena Ochoa managed a 4- under 68, but is only tied for ninth place with Wendy Ward at 5-under-par 211.
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