September 10, 2012
The old friends didn't miss a beat. They'd been apart for years, but it was as if they'd been texting, Skyping and/or calling daily.
The fit was that seamless.
Kingsmill officials reminded us all that they still know how to stage a first-rate golf tournament. From the course to the amenities to the galleries, the production bordered on flawless, Thursday's rains notwithstanding.
The women of the LPGA Tour responded in kind, providing an epic show that, against all odds, didn't end Sunday.
Paula Creamer and Jiyai Shin teed off in the final group of the Kingsmill Championship at 11:50 a.m. They continued through the afternoon and into the evening, until darkness came along the James River.
Through the regulation 72 holes, they were deadlocked at 16-under-par 268, two clear of the field.
Then, things went completely haywire. Over and over and over they played the River Course's 18th, a thorny par-4 with a nasty, back pin placement. And over and over and over they made pars.
Eight times in all, the longest two-player overtime in LPGA history. Finally, with literal blackness about to envelop the course, the players said no more, agreeing to return at 9 a.m. Monday, when, thankfully, they'll take a respite from 18 and start at 16.
"It's just, like, so weird," Shin said, the day's most precise and succinct analysis.
Whoever wins, Kingsmill will welcome yet another worthy champion, one with a major title on her resume, as it did from 2003-09 before taking a two-year break to settle sponsorship matters.
Shin (13th) and Creamer (18th) are among the top 20 in the world rankings. A former No. 1, Shin won the 2008 Women's British Open; Creamer conquered the 2010 U.S. Women's Open at mighty Oakmont.
But neither has cashed the big check since 2010, and it showed. Oh, my, did it show.
Creamer's skittishness was evident from the start as she missed a 5-footer for birdie at the first. But when she chipped in for birdie at No. 2 and made a short birdie putt at No. 4, the course's most exacting test this week, she was 18-under.
Only Shin, at 16-under, was within four strokes, and Annika Sorenstam's tournament record of 19-under was in jeopardy.
But on the 6th, an absolutely benign par-4, Creamer flew the green from the fairway. The ball found the sloped cart path and rolled down toward a tunnel underneath the street.
Two chips and two putts later, Creamer had made double-bogey, this after 38 consecutive holes without so much as a bogey.
"An unfortunate mistake," Creamer said.
She made another from the 12th fairway, hitting a tree that led to bogey. Suddenly, Shin, Ai Miyazato, Catriona Matthew and Karine Icher were within a shot of Creamer.
Feel free to wonder: Karine who?
While all the other contenders boast at least four LPGA victories, she's winless since qualifying for the tour in 2003.
Four times Icher had played here. Four times she missed the cut. Eight rounds, all over par.
But Icher is a different player than three years ago, a more-grounded, less-tense player. That's what parenthood does to you.
Icher and her husband/caddie had their first child 13 months ago, and Lola travels the circuit with her parents. Even with Lola teething and sleep a rarity, Icher finds herself at peace.
Creamer and Shin had plenty to keep them sleepless Sunday night.
After they separated from the pack, Creamer went to the last with a 1-shot edge. Not the ideal time for a 3-putt. But that's what she did, rolling a long, bold birdie try about 5 feet past and missing the comebacker.
Shin returned the favor on the first playoff hole, leaving a short, flat, uphill birdie attempt inexcusably short.
That's when you knew: As gifted as these two are, the moment was bigger than they.
"First couple holes of the playoff, I was really, really nervous," Shin said. "But after that I started getting comfortable with it."
Shin was stoic a wry smile about all she could muster after another playoff putt burned an edge. Creamer was demonstrative, contorting herself, pleading for a putt to fall to end a marathon that had no discernible finish line.
"We're going to have to decide a champion on one hole," Creamer said, "and we've both done so well, and we've fought so hard. But I guess that's sports, and that's golf, and we've got to come out tomorrow and start on 16. So here we go."
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