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Feng in the hunt, but fire in the belly inspires Creamer
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Feng Shanshan achieved a career-best 63, a second-place finish at the Bell Micro LPGA Classic, and career winnings of almost half a million dollars during her rookie season in 2008. On March 5th 2009, in the strongest field she has ever contested, the 19-year old Chinese player recorded a 2-under par 70 to tie for 11th at the end of the first day of the HSBC Women's Champions at the Tanah Merah Country Club in Singapore.

Feng Shanshan - very much in the hunt after Day one [LPGA Tour]

Feng Shanshan - very much in the hunt after Day one [LPGA Tour]

She was one of the China's top amateurs, qualifying for the 2007 US Women's Open and winning the accolade of Golfweek's Top Chinese Amateur that season as a result. She then tied for ninth at the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament to earn exempt status for the 2008 LPGA season, and turned professional immediately following the final round. Now, it seems, she is ready to play ball with the big girls.

Day one provided her with a decent round of five bogeys and three birdies. She will be particularly satisfied at having birdied all four of the par-5s. More of the same in Round 2 will set her up nicely for the weekend, but she will have to weed out the bogeys if she wants to be in real contention come Sunday.

"Today was good," she said. "I just missed three short putts so I made three bogeys. I thought I was playing well, I was hitting the ball close to the pin and my long putts were good. I just missed some short putts. It's very easy to lip out here." She was particularly pleased to be at the business end of the leaderboard: "I have been starting very badly – my first day I always play badly – now my first day was good, so I'm happy. Starting badly I have to catch up each day, now I'm in a position where I can be confident. I can play stable golf now."

She has no particular scoring target for the three days to come: "I'm just trying to think that each day is a Sunday..."

If she can maintain her form through the tournament, she may find herself surrounded by many of the ten players who lead her after the first round. They make up a name-check of many of those who are in prime form coming into the tournament – Jane and Angela Park leading on 67, Se Ri Pak, Gwladys Nocera, and holder Lorena Ochoa on 69.

Paula Creamer shows delightful form on the sixth hole during the first round. [Andrew Redington/Getty Images]

Paula Creamer shows delightful form on the sixth hole during the first round. [Andrew Redington/Getty Images]

The third of the trio in the lead after Round 1 is Paula Creamer. After the disappointment of handing over a three-shot lead to Lorena Ochoa last Sunday, she promised to perform with an extra fire inside her at the HSBC Women's Champions.

She did, both literally and metaphorically. The 23-year-old American shot a five-under-par 67 to share the lead with the two Park's of Korean origin – fellow American Jane and Brazil's Angele – despite coming down with the sickness that has been troubling several of the LPGA's extended family since it arrived in Asia.

"I went through several different symptoms today. At the beginning I was very sick, very nauseous and in the middle my body felt terrible; chills and aching. I just toughed it out and tried to make the best of it."

The Pink Panther carded her only bogey of the day on her first hole and had to wait for a 50-minute lightning break to hole a four-foot putt on 18 for her sixth birdie of the day, but was determined to produce a bounce-back display after letting the Honda LPGA Thailand title slip through her grasp. "I'm incredibly motivated because last week was a hard loss," Creamer explained.

In comparison, co-leader Jane Park's day was a stroll in the park. The 22-year-old revealed that she was inspired by listening to Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat's hit song "Lucky" during her bogey-free round, even though her successful start owed far less to fortune and more to perspiration.

"We've been working on my distances; getting a better hold on how far I hit each club and how far I carry them. I knew a good round was in the bag somewhere," she said. "My distance control was very good. These greens are very, very big and you have to be on the correct portion of the green and if you don't hit a good shot you can end up a hundred feet away.

Koreas' Dragon Ladies: (from left to right) Ji Young Oh; Na Yeon Choi; Inbee Park; Jiyai Shin; Song Hee Kim; In Kyung Kim. [Scott Halleran/Getty Images]

Koreas' Dragon Ladies: (from left to right) Ji Young Oh; Na Yeon Choi; Inbee Park; Jiyai Shin; Song Hee Kim; In Kyung Kim. [Scott Halleran/Getty Images]

One shot behind the three leaders, only because of a bogey on 18, was the welcome sight of Japanese former-prodigy Ai Miyazato proving her claim that she is indeed ready to win. The 23-year-old found out just how complicated the game can be when she developed a mental block when swinging her driver two years ago, but made her round of 68 sound like child's play.

"I was hitting driver straight, I was hitting the greens and I was making the putts. It was really simple," said Ai. "It's not a surprise. It's a result of what I've been building up to over the last two seasons."

World number one and defending HSBC Women's Champions champion Lorena Ochoa is one of several figures near the top of the leaderboard on three under par. They include Angela Stanford, the winner of the season-opening SBS Open and arguably the hottest player on the planet right now, reigning European number one Gwladys Nocera and Hall-of-Famer Se Ri Pak.

"It's only the beginning. We've got a long way to go," admitted Jane Park. "I just need to be able to put four rounds together. Here and there I'll have a couple of good rounds. Staying focused and in the moment is probably my biggest thing. I probably get ahead of myself sometimes. Just staying in the moment and trying to string four good rounds together will probably be my biggest obstacle."

In comparison to her co-leader, Creamer was bullish, recounting her victory in the 2008 Fields Open and her third place at last year's ADT Championship while spending more time with the doctor than on the driving range.

"I always play better when I'm sick!" she declared. "You'll have to carry me out on a stretcher before I'll leave a tournament."

Seon Hwa Lee of South Korea lines up a putt with her caddie John Wilkes on the fifth green. [Scott Halleran/Getty Images]

Seon Hwa Lee of South Korea lines up a putt with her caddie John Wilkes on the fifth green. [Scott Halleran/Getty Images] 

(HSBC Golf and David Ferguson March 6, 2009)

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