ANN ARBOR, Michigan — Feng Shanshan won in Malaysia and Japan during an impressive stretch toward the end of the 2016 season.
On American soil, however, it had been a while since China’s best female golfer last tasted victory.
That dry spell ended when Feng shot a 4-under 68 on Sunday to win the LPGA Volvik Championship by one stroke over Australia’s Lee Minjee and Park Sung-hyun of South Korea.
It was Feng’s first victory of the season and seventh of her career — and her first in the US since the CME Group Titleholders in 2013.
“I’m very happy to prove to the fans in the US that I can actually win here,” said Feng.
Feng, a client of IMG, is one of the country’s most high-profile professional athletes, representing Buick, Honma, Kumho Tire, Reignwood, CTBC, UL and LeSports, among others.
She led by one shot after a bogey-free third round on Saturday, then kept the rest of the field at bay over the 6,734-yard course at Travis Pointe Country Club.
A bronze medalist at the 2016 Olympics, Feng led by four strokes with four holes to play, but she made a bogey on No 16 and Lee birdied 17.
Feng coolly two-putted the final hole to finish at 19-under 269.
Lee (65) made six birdies on the front nine, while Park (66) made four on the back.
Playing a couple of groups ahead of Feng, Lee knew she needed a strong finish to catch the leader, and after her birdie on 17, she tried to reach the green on the par-5 18th in two.
Lee missed well to the left and ended up near the scoring tent before scrambling to make par.
“I was like, ‘Oh, I’m four shots behind with two holes to go.’ So I just tried to play and make as many birdies as I could on the last two holes,” Lee said. “I made one.”
Feng still had room for error as she was finishing her round — not that she necessarily realized it. She said she tries to ignore the leaderboard when she plays.
“I had no idea about the others, except for my playing partners, so I was maybe assuming somebody in front of me maybe would have a super-low round and might catch me,” Feng said. “I was just focusing on my own game.”
Feng’s second shot on 18 left her behind a bunker near the green, and her shot from there still came up short of the putting surface.
When she finally reached the green, she still had two putts for the win from inside 20 feet.
“I asked my caddie. I handed him the ball, I was like, ‘Is it OK?’ My caddie said, ‘Oh, it’s fine.’ Then I was like, ‘Oh, maybe I’ve got two putts to win,’” she said. “And I looked at the leaderboard and I was winning by two, so I didn’t have pressure.”
Lizette Salas (69) and Lee Jeong-eun (67) finished tied for fourth, two strokes behind.
Lydia Ko skipped this event but remains No 1 in the Rolex Rankings.
Ryu So-yeon and Ariya Jutanugarn each could have displaced Ko this week, but Ryu (72) finished tied for 56th at three under, and Jutanugarn (71) — the defending champion — was 11-under and tied for 21st. Ryu had finished in the top 10 in 11 consecutive events, dating to last season.
Feng finished last year strong after her Olympic medal, winning twice to cap a streak of six straight tour finishes in the top four.
“I got the bronze medal in Rio and that really gave me a lot more confidence,” she said.
“After that I just reminded myself every time, ‘Hey, just smile all the time, it doesn’t matter if you hit a bad shot. It’s going to happen because we’re human beings and we should allow ourselves to do that.”
Feng’s most recent LPGA win before Sunday was at last year’s TOTO Japan Classic, when she took a three-shot lead to the final hole, then made a double bogey that was enough to notch a one-stroke victory.
She came into the final round on Sunday with a one-stroke lead over Salas and was ahead by two after the front nine.
AP — China Daily