Shanshan Feng has picked up right where she left off a year ago at the TOTO Japan Classic, as the defending champion leads by two heading into Sunday’s final round.
Feng fired a 9-under par 63 Saturday, featuring seven birdies and an eagle. Feng, who captured the 2016 event by one, has a two-shot lead over Japan’s Ai Suzuki.
“What was working well was my putting today. The first three holes those birdies weren’t very short, and on the third hole after I hit the ball, when the ball was like halfway I stopped and looked at Mercer [caddie] and I was like ‘oh my god that thing is going in’ and then it went in. I was shocked, because that wasn’t a very usual start for a round, but then after that I kind of kept my good putting going on and finished with a 9-under,” said Feng.
Feng birdied five of her first seven holes Saturday to jump out to a quick lead, which was five at one point, before Suzuki fired a 6-under-par 30 on the back nine to jump to within shouting distance of Feng’s lead.
Feng is looking for her second victory of the year, having captured the LPGA Volvik Championship in May. She’s certainly been trending upwards, as she’s finished tied for second and tied for third her last two weeks on Tour, respectively.
The seven-time LPGA Tour winner is riding good vibes into this week in Japan after her runner-up finish at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia (her record there over the last four years has been 1-T2-1-T2), and said the fans in both Malaysia and Japan are prompting her to play so well.
“It’s not my first time leading a tournament, but of course it’s my first time maybe I’m not too far away from a title defense,” said Feng. “Of course, before I came I was like, ‘if I can do it, it would be great,’ but the most important thing I think is to enjoy the whole process and then playing with Ai tomorrow will be fun.”
Suzuki fired a 7-under par 65 on Saturday to get to within two shots of the lead.
England’s Charley Hull and South Korea’s Min-Young Lee sit at 10-under par and tied for third.
“Pretty much all round I played pretty good, but I still left some shots out there,” said Hull. “But I’m happy with my round.”
Five golfers are a shot further back at 9-under par, including Momoko Ueda and Ayaka Watanabe from Japan. Americans Stacy Lewis and Lizette Salas are also at 9-under, along with Anna Nordqvist, looking for her third victory of the year.
Five more golfers are at 8-under par including World No. 1 So Yeon Ryu, who is still battling a shoulder injury, and Lydia Ko, who is looking for her first victory of the year.
Ko said she’s been trying to send swing videos to her coach to try to make sure she’s keeping her swing as simple as possible.
“I haven’t seen my coach in a few months – being on the road, it’s hard to work on a lot of things, so for me it’s key to be simple,” she said. “Putting and driving are always going to be important no matter what tournament you play, so those are things I’ll always be working on, to try to be more consistent.”
Danielle Kang withdrew from the TOTO Japan Classic before the start of the second round citing an injury. She will be traveling home and resting up before the final event of 2017, the CME Group Tour Championship.