Feng rests easy for Dubai title but Hull and Nocera run close in Order of Merit battle

After an opening 66 was followed yesterday by a bogey-free 67, Chinese star enjoys a four-stroke lead over Charley Hull, with a trio another stroke back.
Shanshan Feng is not breaking into sweat on trying to better her own course record. Caren Firouz / Reuters
Shanshan Feng is not breaking into sweat on trying to better her own course record. Caren Firouz / Reuters

DUBAI // Shanshan Feng waited to be counted in for her post-round interview with the Ladies European Tour television crew, filling the awkward interlude by nodding confidently as the cameras prepared to roll.

The Chinese star was simply passing the time, but given that she leads the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters by four shots at the halfway mark, she might as well have been saying to everyone in attendance, “I’ve got this”.

Obviously, there is a long way to go and Feng has some serious talent in her slipstream, yet such is her record around the Majlis that anything less than a victory on Saturday would surely rankle. Not so, says the 2012 champion.

“Wherever I’m standing now, my goal is just top three,” said Feng, who is the top-ranked player this week, at world No 5. “If I make that, I’ll feel really happy. I’m not trying to think about winning or anything.”

Her form suggests otherwise. After an opening 66 was followed yesterday by a bogey-free 67, Feng enjoys a healthy advantage over Charley Hull, with a trio another stroke back that comprises Anna Nordqvist, Gwladys Nocera and Noora Tamminen.

En route to the Dubai title two years ago, Feng finished the week at 21 under for a tournament record. At her current rate, she is on track to surpass it. Yet she does not see the need.

“If I break it, of course it’s going to be good, but it’s my record anyway,” she said.

“So as long as other people don’t break it, it’s OK.”

In age-old professional golfer speak, Feng prefers not to think about anything other than the next shot. It helps relieve the pressure, she says, as does her steadfast refusal to scan scores.

“I have a habit that I don’t actually look at the leaderboard during the tournament,” Feng said. “Not until I finish it. Of course, someone is going to tell me, but I’m not going to keep that in my mind.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re leading after the second or third round. The most important thing is you have to be leading after the fourth. Everything around that doesn’t really matter.”

There are other significant things in play this week, though. Hull heads the Order of Merit, with only Nocera holding any hope of beating her to the season-long crown.

The two are separated by a single stroke, although it could have been much better for Hull, had her short approach not found the water on the par-5 final hole.

Standing over the ball, Hull sought to close with a birdie to move within one of Feng. Instead, a double-bogey seven meant she signed for 70 and slipped within close range of Nocera. Hull expects the Frenchwoman, who is €22,715 (Dh103,229) behind in earnings and requires at least a top-four finish to top the money list, will be difficult to shake.

“It’s not over yet,” Hull said. “Gwladys is playing great at the moment, and I think she’ll definitely finish in the top four. So I’ll have to dig deep tomorrow.”

Besides, Hull has multiple targets on her mind.

“What am I, four or five off the lead?” she said. “That’s nothing at all.”

It seems like nothing to Nocera, as well, but only because she is intent on merely enjoying the end to what has been a fine season. “The top is the top,” she said. “I can’t do anything about that. I’m playing good, the putts are nearly dropping, so it’s coming together. It’s good for the weekend.”

Ditto for Amy Boulden. The Welshwoman is looking to end 2014 as the tour’s rookie of the year, with Sally Watson as her closest challenger. Boulden is in pole position and sits on level par, two shots better than her Scottish rival.

In fact, had Watson not birdied 18, she would have missed the cut. The race was almost run.

“You can’t win anything if you don’t make the cut,” Watson said.

“To be honest, considering I have a limited chance of winning the event, it’s kind of a fun thing to play for at the weekend.”

jmcauley@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter at SprtNationalUAE

Published: December 11, 2014 04:00 AM

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