DUBAI // Shanshan Feng may have to recalibrate expectations following a blemish-free opening round yesterday at Emirates Golf Club.
The 23 year old, who in June became the first player from China to secure a major championship, set the modest target of a top-five finish in her Dubai debut this week, but carded a birdie-laden 66 to share the lead with England's Florentyna Parker.
Feng should perhaps give herself more credit, having arrived at the Majlis Course as the highest-ranked player in the 108-strong field. The world No 6 has also recently joined Omega as a brand ambassador, and admitted after her first round she had been feeling a certain strain.
"It's my first time at this tournament, and it's my sponsor's tournament, so I actually came in here with pressure," she said. "I told myself on the driving range that I had to be patient, no matter if I'm playing well or not.
"And I was, because I was only one-under through seven holes and had missed a lot of chances. But I had quite a comeback."
Feng attributed her slow start to some wayward iron play, yet holed a 15-foot putt on the eighth to begin a run of five birdies in nine holes. "My goal was just top-five, I wasn't thinking too much about winning," she said. "But you know, I'm going to try my best on every shot."
Judging by Parker's first-day display, Feng might need to remain true to her word. A previous winner on the Ladies European Tour, she clearly likes the circuit's season-ending event, having in the past two years finished ninth and then fourth.
Parker derived particular pleasure from hitting 14 greens in regulation, while 26 putts proved she is proficient with the putter, too.
"I have a cousin who's a pro at Al Badia Golf Club so I've been here practicing the past two months," said Parker, whose family ties were strengthened yesterday with brother Ben acting as her caddie.
"I feel very comfortable here. It's like home and this is my lowest round on this course, so I'm starting off in a great position. You never know what happens in golf, but I'm hoping to just keep playing like I have and finish the season quite well."
Klara Spilkova heads a chasing trio one shot back. The 17-year-old Czech posted a bogeyless 67 to join, on five-under, Sahra Hassan of Wales and Cindy Lacrosse of the United States.
Carlota Ciganda, the current leader in the race for the Order of Merit trophy, began what she hopes will be her victory lap with a two-under-par 70, while Caroline Masson, her only rival for the season crown, fared two shots better.
Masson said: "It's really just about my game this week, playing well and trying to finish high, then see what happens. I'm the one who has to shoot low and finish well."
Defending champion Thompson still believes she can retain trophy
Lexi Thompson, the defending champion, rued a profligacy with the putter yesterday as she finished her first round three shots off the summit.
The American teenager, who by winning this event last year at age 16 became the youngest professional champion in Ladies European Tour (LET) history, bogeyed the second and fourth holes, although regrouped to sink four further birdies to sit tied-14th.
When asked if the 15-under total that clinched the trophy last season was still attainable, Thompson said: “I definitely think I can do it. I could have dropped a few more putts – I’d a lot of lip-outs out there – but I’ll take three-under for a first round.
“I’m only three back, so if I shoot a good number under par – four or five – it will put me in a good position for the weekend.
“I like playing in the morning, getting up ready to go and teeing off early. That’s when you can score well on this golf course. There’s some birdie holes that you can take advantage of.”
Michelle Wie, Thompson’s celebrated compatriot, struggled to shake off the effects of illness, although did eventually sign off on a two-under-par 70.
A birdie at the last would have offered the 23 year old a little respite, yet a weary Wie could be heard exclaiming “made it” on conclusion of her round.
Elsewhere, Laura Davies, the seven-time Order of Merit champion, shot a modest 71, while Seo Hee-kyung, the talented South Korean, opened with a disappointing 74 in her quest for a first LET title.
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