Darkness Halts Play; Round To Resume Sunday at 8 A.M. July 9, 2010 By Mike Dudurich

Oakmont, Pa. – Paula Creamer must be getting tired of finishing tied for sixth in the U.S. Women’s Open. After all, she’s done it back-to-back in 2008 and 2009. But this year, at Oakmont Country Club, she’s performing as though she’s ready to win.

After finishing off her rain-delayed second round with a 1-under 70 on Saturday morning, Creamer kept her momentum in the

Suzann Pettersen reacts after a missed putt on 10 during --- b_10USWO__J5F3802
 Suzann Pettersen sits four strokes off the lead in the suspended third round. (John Mummert/USGA)
third round and was atop the leaderboard at one under par when darkness halted play for the day at 8:37 p.m. EDT. She’s the only player in the field under par.

Creamer made it through 13 holes before darkness fell, and along with the other 28 players left on the course, she’ll finish the third round Sunday morning, starting at 8 a.m. The fourth round will begin at approximately 10:20 a.m.

ESPN2 has agreed to televise the conclusion of round three at 8:30 a.m. EDT.

Creamer’s strong play at Oakmont is remarkable considering she missed three months earlier this season due to reconstructive surgery on her left thumb. This is only her third event since she returned to competition in June.

She got rolling on the second nine Saturday afternoon, making birdies on holes 10 and 12 before closing the day with a bogey-4 on 13. She has a three-shot lead over Wendy Ward, who stands at two over par through 17 holes, and a four-shot bulge over Suzann Petterson (through 14). First-round leader Brittany Lang (13 holes), Amy Yang (15 holes) and 15-year-old Alexis Thompson, who shot the best third-round score (70) trail by five shots.

I’m just trying to stay as patient as I can, Creamer said after a day that started at 5:30 a.m. when she arrived at the course and ended at near 9 p.m. I knew coming in that over par was going to win and I’ve kept telling myself to keep making as many pars as I can.

Creamer, 23, has tried to downplay the thumb injury throughout the week, but admitted Saturday night that her whole left hand was tired.

I had two warm-ups, played 25 holes or whatever, that’s a long day, she said. I’ll get some ice on it and probably sleep with an ice bag on it. The more I think about making pars, the less I think about the thumb.

Other prominent players include Christina Kim (through 14 holes) and Natalie Gulbis (through 17), both of who sit at five over par.

World No. 1 Cristie Kerr started the third round just  one stroke off the lead held by Creamer and Japan’s Sakura Yokomine, but back-to-back double bogeys on four and five sent how trickling down the leaderboard. The 2007 Women’s Open champion got one of those strokes back with a two-putt birdie at the par-5 ninth. But at the par-4 10th, Kerr posted her third double bogey of the round, then added a bogey at the par-5 12th to fall to four over through 13 holes and six over for the championship.

Perhaps the most surprising name among the top 10 at nightfall was Thompson. After rounds of 73 and 74, Thompson shot her 70 thanks to back-to-back birdies on 16 and 17. A bogey on the 18th dampened the strong finish, but Thompson, the youngest to qualify for a Women’s Open (age 12 in 2007), is in contention to become the youngest champion of this event by 4½ years. Inbee Park was 19 years, 11 months when she won in 2008.

I played pretty consistent. I wasn’t steering it around the golf course like I normally do when I get nervous, said Thompson, who turned pro three weeks ago after a 4-0-1 performance for the USA in the Curtis Cup Match. I trusted my swing, hit fairways and greens and made two-putts. The nerves really weren’t that bad, except for my first tee shot. I hit the biggest chunk 3-wood off that tee, maybe 160 yards.

After the second round was completed on Saturday, the field was cut to the low 60 and ties, plus anyone within 10 shots of the lead. Sixty-eight players (62 pros and six amateurs) made that mark at 10-over 152.

Among those missing the cut were past major champions Se Ri Pak, Anna Nordqvist, Catriona Matthew and Hall-of-Famer Juli Inkster, who was the runner-up in the 1992 Women’s Open held at Oakmont.

Also headed home early was Michelle Wie, who followed a first-round 82 with a 76.

Mike Dudurich is a freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on USGA websites.