Golf: Feng leads in Dubai despite illness

DUBAI (AFP) - China's Feng Shanshan, the highest-ranked player in the field at world No. 5, overcame a mystery illness to master the tough afternoon conditions and join Sweden's Carin Koch on top of the leader board at the end of the opening day's play on Wednesday of the 500,000 euros (S$815,000) Dubai Ladies Masters.

In the season-ending championship of the Ladies European Tour (LET), Feng closed with a 12-footer birdie on the final hole of the Majlis course for a six-under round of 66, a mark that had been set in the morning group by the 43-year-old Koch.

Unlike Feng, Koch had started her round from the 10th hole, and could have finished as sole leader after the eight-birdie round but for a dropped shot on her closing hole.

In the race to become the new European No. 1, England's Charley Hull started her campaign in excellent fashion with a 67. That round gave her a two-shot advantage over her nearest rival for the Order of Merit crown, Gwladys Nocera of France.

Winner of last week's Women's Indian Open, Nocera needs to make 22,716 euros more than Hull this week and she opened with a steady 69.

Hull was tied for the third place alongside Korean amateur Lee So Young, South Africa Lee-Anne Pace and Wales' Becky Brewerton.

The other battle going on this week is between Wales' Amy Boulden and Scotland's Sally Watson for the Rookie of the Year honour.

Boulden is already ahead by 7,799 euros and while she opened the tournament with a 70, Watson struggled to a 76, three shots outside the projected cut-line.

The 2012 champion Feng was delighted with her round, which contained seven birdies and just one dropped shot, and she said: "I really like this course and I always finish pretty well here. This year coming in, I set my goal and I want to finish maybe inside the top three. I would say six under par is a pretty good start and I'm really happy about it."

Feng, who did not attend her scheduled press conference on Tuesday because she wasn't feeling well, refused to disclose what was wrong with her.

"We are professionals, so when we are working, we don't talk about if we are sick or anything. I don't want to find excuses for myself.

"I'll tell you after the tournament finishes because I don't want it to be mentioned and people will just think she's trying to find an excuse," she added.

Another player attracting a lot of headlines this week is Cheyenne Woods, the 22-year-old niece of Tiger Woods, who secured her LPGA Tour playing rights in the Qualifying School last Sunday.

She started well despite the long journey and finished four shots off the lead at 70.