By Larry Fine
BEDMINSTER, New Jersey (Reuters) – China’s Shanshan Feng shrugged off the effects of jet lag to fire a six-under-par 66 for the clubhouse lead in the weather-disrupted opening round of the U.S. Women’s Open at Trump National on Thursday.
The Olympic bronze medalist took advantage of calm morning conditions with a sizzling opening nine of five-under 31 to lead a pack that included perennial Women’s Open contender Amy Yang, world number one Ryu So-yeon and former number one Lydia Ko.
A heavy thundershower interrupted the afternoon wave for two hours five minutes and play was called off due to failing light with 39 players needing to return early on Friday to finish.
There were rumblings that Donald Trump was planning to drop in to a course he owns this weekend, which would add a layer of security and could trigger protests by activists who have found comments by the U.S. President demeaning to women.
Eric Trump, his son, was spotted during the opening round signing autographs in the merchandising pavilion, where Trump teddy bears were among mementos for sale.
Feng, who played an event last week in China and arrived in Bedminster exhausted on Monday after an overnight flight, scored in bursts with two batches of three birdies in a bogey-free round at the course some 50 miles west of Manhattan.
“I had three birdies in the first four holes and then after that I just felt so comfortable about everything,” said Feng, who had never broken 70 in 10 previous Women’s Open appearances.
South Korean Yang, who has finished top four in all but one of the last five championships, was one back in second place after a five-under 67.
Ryu, winner of this year’s ANA Inspiration major, birdied three of her last five holes for a 68, while New Zealander Ko slipped from six under with two late bogeys in her 68 to also share third on the leaderboard.
Late starter Carlota Ciganda of Spain also stood at four-under but with one hole to finish, while 15-year-old amateur Rachel Heck, the youngest player in the 156-player field, was three-under after 13 holes.
Rio Games silver medalist Ko played in a group with Feng and gold medalist Park In-bee (77) in an Olympic podium threesome and bogeyed the last after hitting a wedge from the fringe rather than putting through the frog’s hair.
“Obviously a little disappointing to finish up with a bogey on the last, but when I see how many good par saves I made throughout the day, I’m okay with that,” the 20-year-old said.
Feng took it relatively easy after arriving in Bedminster, limiting herself to nine holes of practice on Tuesday and Wednesday while spending extra time on her putting.
“It was my sponsor’s tournament in China last week and I felt like it was my responsibility to actually go support my sponsor,” Feng said.
“Also, that was my first time to play in China this year, so I really wanted to see my family and all my friends back home.”
Feng said the Kumho Tire Ladies Open had proved to be a good warm-up for her – the course was narrow and forced her to hit the ball straight.
“I think that was one of my keys, why I actually played well today, because I left myself birdie chances for most of the holes,” she said.
(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Larry King and Nick Mulvenney)