China’s Shanshan Feng, the bronze medallist in Rio 2016, celebrated her 32nd birthday in style when she fired a flawless 7-under 64 in the second round of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 to haul herself back into medal contention on Thursday.
After a disappointing 74 on the first day, she sank seven birdies against no bogeys on another sweltering day at Kasumigaseki Country Club to move up to tied 11th place on 4-under 138. World No. 1 Nelly Korda of the United States tied the Olympic record of 62 to open up a four-shot lead on 13-under 129 in the race for the gold medal.
With three players – India’s Aditi Ashok (66) and Danish duo Nanna Koerstz Madsen (64) and Emily Kristine Pedersen (63) – sharing second place on 9-under, Feng knows she has her work cut out if she harbours hopes of getting back onto the podium in Tokyo. Feng’s compatriot, Xiyu Lin, fired a 66 which featured one eagle, six birdies and three bogeys, to share ninth place on 5-under.
A potential Pacific storm that could bring torrential rain and wind to the area by Saturday’s scheduled final round could reduce the women’s competition to 54-holes, with officials intent to continue as planned and monitoring the storm before making a final decision.
“It was pretty good. I knew I didn’t do very well yesterday, so plus they’re saying that maybe they’re going to shorten the tournament to a 54-hole tournament. I knew I would have to make something happen. That was what I was focusing on. My ball striking was much better, so I gave myself a lot of birdie chances and I made most of them. So 7-under I think, yes, I’m still behind, but at least I think it’s halfway there,” said Feng.
The 10-time LPGA Tour winner credited her putter for the 10-shot improvement on a day of low scoring. “I think my putting yesterday wasn’t that bad, it was just misjudged – I misjudged the speed a little bit. The greens are actually a little bit slower than what we were thinking. I just couldn’t get the ball there, plus my ball-striking, I just didn’t give myself too many chances yesterday,” said Feng.
“I think at least I went from impossible to now maybe have a small chance (for a medal). I would say that. I would still have to go low for two more rounds because I know the girls are going to play well because we’ve got the best girls from all over the world here. Other than top three, it doesn’t mean anything. So I guess everybody’s trying to go for top three. I will give it a hundred percent.”
With fans not permitted on site at this Olympics, the volunteers assisting with the event made sure they wished Feng a happy birthday before she set off for her second round. “Most of the volunteers knew it was my birthday. I think like one of them actually wrote some words for me and she held the board and was showing me on the course,” said Feng.
“And I was like, thank you. I guess the tournament maybe was telling them. I was glad that not everybody came to me and said happy birthday because I don’t know if I can still concentrate if that happened.”
With Tokyo 2020 likely to be her final Olympic appearance, Feng is determined to earn a medal again for Team China.
“Seeing all the setup like on the tee boxes, the markers are the five rings and the way they announce us on the tee box is different. So it’s quite special. We’re not really going for prize money. This time we’re representing our countries and we’re playing for honour. That’s why everybody is trying so hard.”
Xiyu Lin, 25, enjoyed a strong outward nine with three straight birdies and one eagle on the eighth hole as she put herself in position for a medal. A two-time winner on the Ladies European Tour, she was pleased with her strong showing.
“I think I played pretty good. I hit the ball really, really well. For my putter it gets a little bit hotter than yesterday, but still not good enough. I think my tee to green is my best, like pretty much as well as I can do, but around the greens I still made some simple mistakes, causing too many bogeys. I think it’s definitely going towards the right direction and very looking forward to the next two rounds or one round,” she said.
“Today I started giving myself some good birdie chances but I didn’t make any. Then I missed a par putt on the par-3 (4th hole) again, so I was a little mad at myself, but then I kind of turned around and said, okay, like yesterday I did three birdies in a row and I did that (from the fifth hole). I then hit a great tee shot and a great second shot and it came back with the slope to like five feet and then I made eagle on eight. I think that’s a really good one.”