-- SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. -- Michelle Wie is the most famous teenager in golf. That doesn't mean she's the best. Not yet, anyway. The 14-year-old from Honolulu showed up at the U.S. Women's Open with plenty of company -- a record 16 teenagers in the 156-player field at Orchards Golf Club. That doesn't include Morgan Pressel, the 16-year-old pixie from south Florida who whipped Wie in the third round of the U.S. Junior Girls Amateur last summer. Also absent is Ya-Ni Tseng of Taiwan, the 15-year-old who rallied over the closing holes to beat Wie last week in the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links. Wie finished ahead of Annika Sorenstam in the first LPGA Tour major of the year. She was better than Adam Scott over two days at the Sony Open, where her 68 was the best ever by a female on the PGA Tour. She wants to play both tours one day, and Ernie Els is among those who believes she can. But there is plenty of competition in her own age group. Topping the list is Paula Creamer, the 17-year-old Californian with an engaging smile and a game that is only now starting to get noticed. Creamer starred at the Curtis Cup last month. With matches tied at 6 going into the Sunday singles, Creamer was sent out in the first match against the best from Great Britain & Ireland, Emma Duggleby, beating her 3 and 2 to give the United States an emotional lift on its way to a 10-8 victory. When they returned home, Wie went to the men's Amateur Public Links and failed to qualify by one shot. Creamer competed on the LPGA Tour and finished second, one shot behind Cristie Kerr, at the ShopRite Classic. Wie has never been higher than fourth on the LPGA, although that was at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, a major. The following week, Wie lost in the finals of the Women's Amateur Public Links, a noble effort considering the vagaries of match play and the pressure she faced as defending champion. Creamer continued her tour of the LPGA and tied for 12th in Rochester, N.Y., on a tough course. She was one of only five players who shot par or better all four days. Despite their age, a rivalry already is budding. It started last summer in the Women's Open, when Creamer delighted in getting grouped with -- and beating -- Wie in the 36-hole qualifier. Wie-mania was just taking off, but the 17-year-old Creamer wanted nothing to do with it. "She's just another junior golfer," Creamer said at the time. "I don't really see her as someone beyond me. I've played her twice and beat her both times." An icy relationship quickly melted as Curtis Cup teammates, starting with a four-day practice session when Wie and Creamer took walks on the beach at Sea Island. "We really got to know each other," Wie said. "We got really close." Creamer was baited into talk of a rivalry on Tuesday, but she refused to take even a nibble and at one point started laughing even before the question was posed. "Just waiting to hear what's next," she said. Do you want to beat Michelle as badly as you did last year? "I try to play the golf course, really," Creamer said, stifling a smile. "I would like to beat anybody I play. But there's not one person that I try to beat." Still, the attention heaped on Wie motivates her. "She asked me one time, 'Does she (Wie) ever get questions about me?" said her father, Paul Creamer, a pilot for American Airlines. "I said, 'If not, she should.' But it all goes back to taking care of what you can control. People in the golf world know what's going on. "Put their resumes together and people can come to their own interpretations." Creamer has All-Star credentials for a senior-to-be at the David Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where she has spent the last four years. She has won 16 prominent junior titles and has thrived in three international competitions at the Junior Solheim Cup, the Spirit and the Curtis Cup. "Paula doesn't have anything to prove," her father said. Wie has won only one title of distinction, but it was a biggie. A year ago at age 13, she became the youngest winner of a USGA championship for grown-ups when she captured the Women's Amateur Public Links. She outlasted Duke star Virada Nirapathpongporn, who went on to win the U.S. Women's Amateur later that summer. Her father, B.J. Wie, is taking an unconventional route by sending her out against the best. She already has played against the men on the Canadian, Nationwide and PGA Tour, missing the cut in all of them. But she captured everyone's imagination, and showed her awesome potential, with a 68 in the Sony Open that left her one stroke shy of playing on the weekend. On the LPGA Tour, she has made the cut in nine of her last 10 tournaments and would have earned enough money in three events this year to be 41st on the money list. Some argue, Tiger Woods included, that Wie needs to experience winning. But she is only 14, and it is too early to judge the path she is taking. One thing seems certain -- that path figures to intersect with Creamer at some point, if it hasn't already.
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