China's Feng Shanshan continued her strong form when the World No. 4 held it together through cool and windy conditions on Friday to card an even-par 72 for a one-stroke lead at the Hyundai China Ladies Open in Guangdong province.
South Koreans Kim Min-sun, Hong Jin-joo and Lim Eun-bin were one stroke off the pace at the 550,000 U.S. dollars event, the season-ending tournament of the China LPGA Tour that is co-sanctioned with the LPGA Tour of South Korea.
World No. 7 Jang Ha-na and World No. 25 Kim Hyo-joo, both past winners of the national championship, were in a group of 10 players who shot 74 over the Lion Lake Country Club Moon Course in Qingyuan city, 60 kilometres north-west of Guangzhou.
Teeing off from the 10th hole in the early morning, Feng, a winner of three tournaments in her last four starts, including last week's Omega Dubai Ladies Masters, had a bogey on her first hole and then reeled off four birdies over the next seven holes to get to three-under. After a bogey at the 18th, her ninth hole, she sank a 45-foot putt at the second, her 11th hole, before three consecutive bogeys starting at the next.
"Today's even par is not perfect. I made five bogeys, which is too many for me. But five birdies are awesome against the tough conditions. Hopefully I can take out those mistakes the next two days," said Feng, a bronze medalist at the Rio Olympic Games.
"Today, I shot three-under at my best time, but I made three bogeys in a row from No. 3 that left me a little bit sour taste. But overall I think it is a good start with such difficult conditions. Those greens were very tough. You must put yourself in the right spot or you might end up three-putting. The long-range putting is very tricky."
With South Koreans having dominated the first 10 years of the championship, Feng said it was encouraging to see the improvement in the Chinese players and the possibility of a homegrown champion.
"Entering the tournament I said that I hoped that we could keep this trophy in China, but I didn't say that one is me. I am happy with any Chinese winner. As one of the Chinese team, I will definitely try my best to win."
Lion Lake Country Club is a 27-hole layout designed by Rick Jacobson. The 11th Hyundai China Ladies Open, December 16-18, is being contested over the par-72, 6,333-yard Moon layout.