2017-07-15 21:47:02
Feng Shanshan Pursues Wire-to-Wire Victory at the U.S. Women’s Open

21:47, July 15 243 0

BEDMINSTER, N.J. — Saturday at the United States Women’s Open was all about defense. The Trump National Golf Club course zealously protected par, while ground and air personnel assiduously worked to keep the First Fan, President Trump, safe.

Of the 62 players who survived the 36-hole cut, 22 are under par for the tournament heading into Sunday’s final round. Everyone is chasing Feng Shanshan of China, who posted a one-under 71 for a 54-hole total of nine under in her bid for a wire-to-wire victory.

The group under par surprisingly includes Cristie Kerr, who carded a two-under 70 to move into a tie for seventh, at four under, a day after back spasms nearly led her to withdraw.

The group under par shockingly does not include Stacy Lewis, who made four consecutive birdies starting at the seventh hole to move to within one shot of the lead, at seven under, only to play the final eight holes in nine over.

Her round, which she played in a group with Kerr, started to come apart on the par-4 11th, when her second shot went over the green. Her chip trickled through the green like a tear down a face.

Before Lewis’s next shot, the skies above the green erupted in noise. A United States Coast Guard helicopter chased a small plane, which had infiltrated the no-fly zone over the course, and was quickly joined by a fighter jet.

Lewis hit another chip that rolled back to her feet. She then chipped to the opposite fringe and two-putted for a seven.

Lewis’s nightmare on the back nine culminated with two water balls that led to a 10 on the par-5 18th.

Did the plane’s breach of airspace above the course also trespass into the space between Lewis’s ears, hastening her unraveling? She declined to talk after her round — “No chance,” she said as marched past reporters after signing her scorecard.

Kerr acknowledged that she watched the scene unfold above her, but she suggested it was, if anything, a welcome distraction from the golf shots in front of her.

“I had to look at something else other than what was going on on that hole,” Kerr said, adding that it was “a shame” to see what happened to Lewis on the back nine.

“You never want to see that happen to anybody,” she said.

Kerr, the 2007 U.S. Open champion, was in such pain after her opening 69 that she told her husband, Erik Stevens, “I don’t know how much more I can go.” A few holes into her second-round 73, she appeared to be in such bad shape, Stevens said, that he sent texts to alert tournament staff that Kerr might be withdrawing. But then Kerr, who started at No. 10, birdied two holes on her back nine and kept going.

“Birdies are as good as Advil sometimes,” Stevens joked.

Kerr offered this explanation: “Pure insanity.”

She laughed.

“Just grit, just determination,” she said. “Like any other tournament in the world, you would think about just going home, but not this one.”

On Saturday, Kerr was limber enough to execute a few jumping jacks on the par-5 15th green, after one-putting to salvage par. She was trying to get the attention of the president, who was perched in his nearby suite. His attention was trained on the telecast on one of the suite’s flat-screen televisions, so he did not notice Kerr, who played an occasional round of golf with Trump before he became president, when they both had homes in New York and South Florida.

Kerr, who since has shifted her permanent home base to Scottsdale, Ariz., said, “I don’t see him that often, but he’s a huge supporter of women’s golf, and it’s just fun just going, ‘I know the president,’ you know?”

Despite all of the pretournament controversy about the United States Golf Association holding its most prestigious women’s championship at a Trump-owned property, the president’s presence appears not to have caused much backlash on the course, beyond an elevated noise level in the vicinity of his suite that irked some fans, according to Saturday’s White House pool reporter.

Trump arrived at his presidential box in the midafternoon and welcomed several visitors, including Paula Creamer, who did not make the cut, and Lexi Thompson after she finished her round of 74.

Kerr’s walk from the green to the scoring area took her past Trump’s suite, and unlike when she was on the 15th green, this time he noticed her. He stood up and gave her two thumbs up and motioned that he wanted her to join him. After signing her scorecard and meeting with reporters, she headed for the presidential box, with her husband and caddie trailing behind.

Kerr, 39, was admitted only after she spread her arms and was wanded by security. She also had to take off her cap to make sure she was not hiding anything. The extra fuss was worth it, Kerr said. Now that Trump is president, she said, “he’s really hard to get to.”

The leader, Feng, met her country’s president, Xi Jinping, last year during a reception for China’s Olympians. Feng, the bronze medalist in women’s golf at the Rio de Janeiro Games, noticed that Xi was shaking the athletes’ hands as if he were in a timed race.

She wanted more than a second of his attention, so when it was her turn, she said she took his hand in hers and said, “President, you are so handsome.”

Feng added: “He was shocked. He stepped back, and then shook my hand again.”

If Feng becomes the tournament’s first wire-to-wire winner since Annika Sorenstam in 2006, she no doubt will meet Trump. Asked if she had given much thought to what she might say to him, Feng paused, and a puckish smile crossed her face.

“Do you want to talk about what I’m wearing tomorrow?” she asked.