BEDMINSTER, N.J. – Shanshan Feng laid a little Annika Sorenstam on the field Saturday, emulating the style of play that won the Swede 10 majors: make pars, avoid mistakes and wait for those chasing you to trip up. And this being the U.S. Women’s Open, where danger lurks everywhere, that’s pretty much what happened.
Feng opened with 17 consecutive pars, running her streak to 23 over two days, before closing with a birdie on No. 18, ironically the only fairway she missed all day, for a 71 that gave her the 54-hole lead at nine-under-par 207. She sits one stroke ahead of Amy Yang, trying for her first major after 16 top-10 finishes, and 17-year-old amateur Hye-Jin Choi.
“I guess finally on the 18th I hit it close enough [to make a birdie] and give the fans some excitement,” Feng said. “Coming to this week, I didn't have any expectation at all. I just wanted to bring out my A game. And then I think I did really well for the first three days, and then I'm going to stick to my game plan tomorrow. I just focus on my own game and let's see what happens.”
That strategy has worked very well so far. While nearly everyone else was bouncing all over the place, Feng, as even keeled as Sorenstam, just a little funnier, was as reliable as a metronome.
Yang, Choi and Jeongeun6 Lee were all two strokes behind Feng going into the third round at Trump National and all stumbled early. Yang shanked a bunker shot on No. 3 and made double bogey then fought her way back to a 70. Choi bogeyed No. 1 and also squeezed out a 70. And Lee started with three consecutive bogeys and shot a 73.
“I didn't have the greatest of starts,” Choi said. “But I think if I just stay focused and play the game as maybe not necessarily play safe but maybe more aggressively, kind of like how I did, I think I'm going to be okay tomorrow,” she said.
Yang, who has finished in the top five in five of the last seven U.S. Women’s Opens, fought the kind of fight on Saturday that might springboard her to success – finally – on Sunday.
“Yeah, it was tough,” she said about her shank. “It was just a little mistake like from the face. It wasn't a huge mistake. Somehow the lie wasn't very -- like wasn't easy to save it. But you know, I stayed patient. I'm still hitting good. I'm still making a lot of putts. So it was a good day, yeah.”
There were a few who took the phrase Moving Day literally. Sung Hyun Park, the runaway leader for LPGA rookie of the year, and Mirim Lee both shot 67, putting Park alone in fourth place at 210 and Lee at 211 along with Rolex No. 1 So Yeon Ryu and Jeongeun6 Lee. Cristie Kerr, the 39-year-old who won this tournament a decade ago, shot 70 and was at 212 with Carlota Ciganda.
Perhaps the best example of the disaster that lurks at a U.S. Women’s Open that Feng avoided was Stacy Lewis. She made four consecutive birdies to pull within one. But on No. 11 she missed the green long, chipped across the green into a collection area, chipped short and the ball rolled back to her feet, chipped long again and made triple bogey. She later made 10 on the par-5 18th to a finish off a round of 32-46 for a 76.
History could be made on Sunday at Trump National. The only time an amateur won the U.S. Women’s Open was 50 years ago, when 22-year-old Catherine Lacoste of France hoisted the trophy at The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., on July 2, 1967. The last time an amateur came close was in 2005 when both Morgan Pressel and Brittany Lang tied for second, two strokes behind Birdie Kim, who holed a bunker shot on the final hole for birdie to win.
But the good-natured way Feng has handled the pressure of the week makes you think she’s going to be tough to bring down in the final round. Asked if she’s though about what she will say if she meets President Trump, Shanshan was her humorous self.
“Want to talk about what I’m wearing tomorrow?” she asked, deflecting the question. “I think maybe I’ll bring out the cow pants again.” Somehow, that seems fitting, and I’m not even sure why.