MOBILE, Ala. – Paula Creamer matched her career best with an 8-under 64 on Thursday to take a two-stroke lead over Lorena Ochoa and two other players after the first round of The Mitchell Company LPGA Tournament of Champions.

With the players allowed to lift, clean and place their balls in the fairways because of wet conditions on Magnolia Grove’s Crossings Course, 27 of the 39 players in the winners-only field broke par.

“They gave birdies out there,” said the 20-year-old Creamer, winless this year after winning twice and earning rookie of the year honors last season.

“It was fun. I enjoyed that. It’s a difficult golf course. You can get fooled a lot by the grain of the greens, but I went out there and had fun.”

Creamer had a bogey-free round.

“I had really good ball-striking,” she said. “The distance control of my irons was great. I felt very confident over the ball today. It’s just all about confidence and timing and right now, my timing of my golf swing with my irons is really good.”

Ochoa, the Mexican star who leads the money list and is tied for tour victory lead with five, can wrap up the player of the year award with a victory. She matched Liselotte Neumann and Joo Mi Kim with a 66.

“You are never surprised at the low scores, especially in a tournament like this there are so many good players,” said Ochoa, coming off a three-week break. “They were going low, so you just need to play aggressive. I think the good thing is you can go right at the flag. You don’t have to think about how it’s going to roll or how it’s going to move because the greens are just very soft. It makes things a little easier.”

Ochoa is seeking her third straight victory and sixth of the year. She won the Corona Morelia Championship in Mexico and followed with a comeback victory over Annika Sorenstam in the Samsung World Championship.

Juli Inkster, Marisa Baena and Patricia Meunier-Lebouc were three strokes back at 67, and Sung Ah Yim, Jee Young Lee and Stacy Prammanasudh shot 68s. Defending champion Christina Kim opened with a 78.

Creamer won the AJGA Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Junior Classic in 2002 on the Crossings Course and was second in 2001.

“When you step on the golf course, you know it fits your eye very well,” she said. “You know that you’ve won on it. It’s just a confidence thing. I feel very comfortable here. The people are very supportive of me in my junior golf career and now my professional career and that means a lot to come to a place where you feel very welcome.”

Ochoa birdied three of the first six holes, but a bogey on the 11th hole dropped her back to 2 under. She birdied the next four holes with three putts inside 10 feet and a two-putt on the par-5 13th.

“That made me mad because I only had like 115 yards to the hole and I have a wedge in my hand and I end up making bogey,” Ochoa said. “I knew there were good par 5s coming and a couple of easy holes, but I told myself to finish strong and make birdies because I knew the leader at the time was 7 under and I was only 2 at the time.”

Sorenstam, the 1997 winner at Westin Hills, is skipping the tournament to team with Fred Couples in the Merrill Lynch Shootout. She will return next week for the season-ending ADT Championship at Trump International in West Palm Beach, Fla.

AP-ES-11-09-06 1814EST

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.