IBARAKI, Japan (AP) – Shanshan Feng shot an 8-under 64 on Saturday to take the TOTO Japan Classic lead, putting the Chinese star in position to close the Asian swing with consecutive victories.
Feng birdied the final two holes for a one-stroke advantage over Ariya Jutanugarn, the 20-year-old Thai player who leads the LPGA Tour with five victories and would wrap up the player of the year award with a victory.
”I still missed a few shots, but I think right now my confidence level is really high, so I know how to score,” Feng said. ”I think that the reason that I struggled in the first half of the year, I was actually hitting the ball really well, but I just didn’t know how to score. Now my putting is working and even if I leave myself a 15-footer, I feel comfortable to make it. I feel a lot more comfortable and confident on the course.”
Jutanugarn had a 68 on another chilly day at Taiheiyo Club in the tour’s first tournament in the Tokyo area since 1991.
”I’m just going to try to have fun and enjoy tomorrow,” Jutanugarn said.
Feng won last week in steamy conditions in Malaysia. She has finished no worse than a tie for fourth in her last six events. She started the run with the Olympic bronze medal in Rio, tied for fourth at Evian in France, opened the Asia trip at home in China with a fourth-place tie, was second in Taiwan and tied for third in South Korea before winning. After winning Sunday, she took off Monday and Tuesday.
”I went to Tokyo,” Feng said. ”I love Japanese food, so I went to my favorite restaurant and went shopping. I spent some money on Monday, so I think that’s why I have to try hard on the weekend to make my money back.”
The five-time LPGA Tour winner two-putted for birdie on the par-5 17th, then capped the bogey-free round with a 10-footer on the par-4 18th that caught the left edge, circled the cup and fell in to get her to 11-under 133. She birdied three of the first six and had three in a row on Nos. 12-14.
”I’m happy about the score, but there’s still one day to go,” Feng said. ”I’m not going to do anything different. I’m going to stick to the game plan and, hopefully, it’s another good day.”
She lost a playoff to Momoko Ueda in 2011 at Kintetsu Kashikojima, the tournament venue from 2006 to last year.
The second-ranked Jutanugarn had six birdies and two bogeys. She has a 13-point lead over Lydia Ko in the player of the year standings, with each playing one more event.
”I played good today,” Jutanugarn said. ”Front nine was really good and on the back nine I just missed some tee shots. Front nine, I made a lot of putts, but back nine putting was not that good. But overall the day was pretty good.”
She praised the Japanese fans who have packed the course.
”They’re very very nice,” Jutanugarn said. ”I never have all the spectators be nice like this.”
The top-ranked Ko was tied for 52nd at 1 over after a 71.
”I putted better today, but it wasn’t overly great,” Ko said. ”I was able to get back from the two bogeys that I had in my first two holes.”
Norway’s Suzann Pettersen (66) and South Korea’s Soo-Yun Kang (69) were 9 under on the pine tree-lined Minori Course.
”Good setup today. Some fun holes,” said Pettersen, second in Malaysia.
The 15-time LPGA Tour winner got the last spot in the final group to complete a major champion threesome.
”I’m playing some good golf these days,” Pettersen said. ”I felt really comfortable on the greens and gave myself a lot of good chances. I just tried to keep the card clean and I managed to do so. Six birdies and playing well, so I’m excited to have a chance tomorrow.”
Defending champion Sun-Ju Ahn (65) was 8 under with Ha Na Jang (68), Jiyai Shin (67), and Jenny Shin (69). Jang won last month in Taiwan for her third victory of the year. Jiyai Shin won the tournament in 2008 and 2010, and is coming off a Japan LPGA victory last week.
Stacy Lewis followed her opening 67 with a 73 to fall into a tie for 21st at 4 under. The 2012 champion, she’s winless in 61 starts since June 2014.
U.S. Solheim Cup teammate Lexi Thompson had an eagle and a double bogey in a 68 that left for tied for 31st at 3 under. In May, she won the JLPGA’s World Ladies Championship Salonpas Cup.