‘Easygoing’ Feng is ruthless and joins Koch in the lead at Dubai Ladies Masters

The Chinese star, the top-ranked player in this week’s field at No 5 and the course record-holder, hit an opening round of six-under 66, writes John McAuley.
World No 5 Shanshan Feng of China justified being the top-ranked player in the field with a six-under 66 yesterday. Warren Little / Getty Images
World No 5 Shanshan Feng of China justified being the top-ranked player in the field with a six-under 66 yesterday. Warren Little / Getty Images

DUBAI // Not that she cares to admit it, but Shanshan Feng should cut a pretty intimidating figure at the top of the leaderboard at the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters.

The Chinese star, the top-ranked player in this week’s field at No 5, has already triumphed at the tournament, when she strolled to five-stroke victory in 2012. Leading wire-to-wire, Feng’s 21-under-par total remains a tournament record.

Read more: Birdies give refreshed Charley Hull a lift at Dubai Ladies Masters

So Wednesday’s opening six-under 66, which secured a tie for first alongside Carin Koch, was a relatively ominous start to the week for Feng, who, given her track record, will most likely take some shifting from the summit. Not that she is prepared to play the schoolyard bully. “I’m not a person who has a really strong personality,” Feng said.

“I’m really easy going, have a lot of friends here – well, I guess maybe they like me – so it wouldn’t really surprise them or make them feel like, ‘Oh, I have to beat her’ or anything like that. It’s good competition.”

It most certainly is. Take a glance at those around Feng on the leaderboard and it is clear that, at present, the field is top-loaded with talent. Sharing first place with Feng is Koch, the 2015 Solheim Cup captain and a veritable veteran, although her last victory was almost a decade ago, on the LPGA Tour.

Chasing the European Order of Merit – this represents the tour’s final event of the season – Charley Hull and Gwladys Nocera are one back and three back, respectively. Lee-Anne Pace, Europe’s No 1 in 2010 and winner of two events in October, sits tied for third, while Pornanong Phatlum, the defending champion, is two shots off the top. Maybe keeping expectations well within reach is wise, then.

“This year, coming in, I set my goal as top three,” Feng said after a round with seven birdies and a bogey.

“I’m not really giving myself too much pressure. Just hopefully see you guys after every round here and I’ll be happy.”

Her game did not suggest as such, but Feng apparently came into the week a little under the weather. Cryptically, she promised to shed light on the issue only once the total scores have been collected and the prizes handed out on Saturday.

“I don’t want to find excuses for myself,” she said. “We’re professionals, so when we are working, we don’t talk about if we are sick or anything.”

Somewhat surprisingly, Koch’s game appears in rude health. The Swede has spent so much time recently tending to various commitments as Solheim Cup captain that she has had hardly any time to focus on her game. Hence, an opening 66 came as a bit of a shock.

“I haven’t played an event since September, so it was probably more just trying to find the fairway and the green and remember how to do it,” Koch said. “It was very unexpected for me.”

As a Dubai debutante, Cheyenne Woods did not know what to expect, either.

The American, who entered the tournament on the back of a successful stint at LPGA Qualifying School, enjoyed her first competitive run around the Majlis course, posting a two-under 70 in the slightly tougher afternoon conditions.

A bogey at the opening hole was not the start Woods envisaged, but she responded with three birdies to keep alive her hopes for the week. Having spent the day becoming more familiar with her surroundings, she is growing in confidence, too.

“I’ll probably feel a little more comfortable on the course,” Woods said. “Today was pretty steady. I hit the ball really well, although I could’ve made a lot more putts.

“That’s why it felt like a mediocre round, because I had a lot of opportunities that I didn’t take advantage of. But overall, it’s a good day. I’m in a good position and I feel good about the rest of the week.”


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Published: December 10, 2014 04:00 AM


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