There appears to be no stopping Shanshan Feng.
Since August, when Feng won the bronze medal at the Olympic games in Rio, she hasn’t finished outside the top 4. She also won back to back in her last two starts on Tour and continued that winning form on Thursday at the CME Group Tour Championship where she opened with a bogey-free, six-under-par 66 to lead by one ahead of So Yeon Ryu and Charley Hull. A group of eight players sit at four under par including two-time major champion In Gee Chun.
‘Well, I’m normally a pretty good ball-striker, but I’m not one of the longest hitters. For me it would be hard to really stop the balls on these greens,’ Feng said about Thursday’s conditions. ‘But, I mean, I think the pin positions are still like reasonable. Like it’s not like maybe three yards over the water or over the bunker. It still gives us room to actually land it in the certain spot and have a birdie chance.’
Based on her current position atop the leaderboard, Feng is projected to win the Race to the CME Globe’s $1-million bonus.
South Africa’s Paula Reto was on point in the first round and made five birdies on her way to a share of 12th at three under par. The Olympian took bogeys at the fifth and 16th, but her aggressive approach put her within three strokes of the lead.
Ryu admitted to getting off to a rocky start on the driving range Thursday morning before opening with a five-under-par 67. The world No 12 says she was committed to staying positive in knowing that she’s won before without her game at 100 per cent. It’s a mindset she’s relied on throughout the season as she’s worked to make changes to her swing after beginning work in January with Cameron McCormick, the same instructor who works with Jordan Spieth.
‘So, what I learned through that is I just rather more focus to like imagination. You know, just keep imagine how the ball going to fly and what shot I am going to hit instead of where is my hand going to be, my wrist,’ she said. ‘So I think I was really struggle all year this year, but that was the biggest thing I was learn back then. I think that study was really very helpful.’
While the CME Group Tour Championship marks the end of the season, it won’t be the end of play for Ryu who will return home next week to Busan, South Korea to compete on invitation in her close friend Inbee Park’s event, the ING Life Champions Trophy. Ryu has been in regular contact with her friend as she continues to rehab an ongoing thumb injury and says Park is still feeling pain when she’s tried hitting balls. On the upside, Ryu says Park purchased a golden retriever following her gold medal victory in the Olympic Games, fittingly named Rio.
Hull seemed well rested on Thursday as she cruised to a bogey-free, five-under-par 67 which included a streak of four consecutive birdies to make the turn. Hull played in just half of the Tour’s six Asia events and getting a break from the gruelling season paid off for her. Hull now sits just one stroke back of the lead in search of her first victory on Tour.
‘I always play well when I come back from holidays and stuff as well. Because I don’t play well when I play too many weeks on the course because mentally I’m not there. If I like – even if I have four weeks off, I would rather have four weeks off than play four, five weeks,’ Hull told media. ‘Yeah, because when I play too much golf I kind of … I don’t concentrate. I kind of get … I can’t explain it. Mentally tired. If I’m back home I’m kind of refreshed.’