With difficult pin positions and swirling winds, Friday was a tough day for scoring at the Jian Lake Blue Bay Golf Club, but it’s a familiar name on top of the leaderboard going into Saturday’s final round.
Shanshan Feng, who captured last week’s TOTO Japan Classic and looks to become the first back-to-back winner of the 2017 season (after becoming the first golfer to repeat as a champion this year last week), leads by one after a 1-over-par 73 on Saturday.
“Overall, I'm happy with my performance today,” said Feng. “Given that today was actually very, very windy, I really held up ground, especially with my approach shots to the greens. Obviously I made a lot of mistakes, and I had a lot of recovery shots as well. But overall, I'm happy with the past three days' performance.”
Feng, at 7-under par for the tournament, had an up-and-down day on Friday, with four bogeys and three birdies on the card, but managed to hold it together down the stretch as she looks for her third win of the 2017 LPGA Tour season.
With a win on Saturday, Feng can move to No. 1 on the Rolex Rankings depending on where current No. 1, Sung Hyun Park, ends up.
If Feng wins and Park finishes in a tie for third with two other players or worse, then Feng is project to move to No. 1, but if Feng finishes second or worse with Park in a tie for fourth with two others or worse, So Yeon Ryu is projected to jump back to No. 1.
“I think this is something… I really don't want to think about because this is something that could happen after the conclusion (of the tournament),” said Feng of her chance at getting to world No. 1. “All I can do is to do my best, play shot by shot and be focused and be concentrated. It's going to be a joy tomorrow.”
Feng bogeyed two of her last three holes but still holds a one-shot lead going into Saturday’s finale over Moriya Jutanugarn, who is looking for her first LPGA Tour victory.
Jutanugarn, who has 10 top-10 finishes this season, shot a 4-under-par 68 in the third round, which tied four other golfers for the round of the day.
On a testy day, Jutanugarn managed to make seven birdies including on three of her last five holes.
“It's been pretty solid so far this week,” she said. “It just helps to be patient a lot on this golf course. Some lucky bounce and just… it's golf. I'm really enjoying this week so far.”
Jutanugarn finished tied for fifth a week ago in Japan, and has seemingly done everything this year except for win, as she has two third-place finishes along with a runner-up on her resume this year.
Second-round leader Ashleigh Buhai struggled on Friday, shooting a 4-over-par 76.
Although 1-under through the first nine holes, Buhai had a rough back nine, shooting a 5-over-par 41, including a double bogey on the par-3 17th when her tee-shot found some bushes behind the green, forcing her to chip out and scramble for a five. Still, the South African is on track for one of her best results of the year as she sits alone in third at 5-under par for the tournament.
“It was quite a frustrating day,” admitted Buhai. “I felt like I actually hit a lot of shots like I wanted to, but the conditions just got really tough, especially on the back nine. The greens firmed up a lot. I know I didn't hit bad shots, so I can't be too disappointed. Just going to keep doing what I was doing.”
A pair of golfers including Na Yeon Choi – looking for her first win on the LPGA Tour since 2015 – and world No. 1 Park, sit a shot further back at 4-under.
Choi and Park matched Jutanugarn for the round of the day with 68’s, and Choi said it was her best round in nearly two years.
“This is officially the last tournament for me this year. I know my game's gradually getting better this year. My slump, like started last year in the summer, and definitely gradually getting better this year. This is the last tournament. I don't want any regret after this week,” she said.
Park, who at the beginning of the week became the first rookie in the LPGA Tour’s history to ascend to No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings, is looking for her third win of the year.
She broke of her clubs in the second round after hitting a shot behind a tree and snapping one of her irons. She had it fixed between rounds, and classified her third round as ‘satisfying.’
“I had so many birdie chances there, but I couldn't make them,” she explained. “But it was quite satisfying.”
A trio of golfers sits at 3-under par including Jessica Korda, Jeong Eun Lee, and Lizette Salas.
Korda is knocking on the door of her first top-10 finish since April, while Salas is riding a hot streak during the Asian Swing, where she has top-10s in three of her last four tournaments.
Lee-Anne Pace and Sandra Gal round out the top 10, as their 2-under par scores have them tied for ninth.
Only three other golfers are under-par through three rounds – Austin Ernst, Sun Young Yoo, and the younger of the Jutanugarn sisters, Ariya – who all sit at 1-under and tied for 11th.
Mi Hyang Lee and Michelle Wie were the other two golfers who shot 4-under-par 68’s, matching the low score of the day. For Wie, it was her second-lowest round since returning from surgery in August.
14 golfers shot in the 80’s on Friday.
Saturday will mark the final round of the 2017 LPGA Tour season for many, as only the top 72 and ties on the Race to the CME Globe standings get to play next week at the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla.