01 Apr 2022 | Professional golf |

Bogey-free Lee leads LPGA major

by PGA of Australia

Minjee Lee Chevron image
Minjee Lee ponders a shot during her opening 66 today with caddie Jason Gilroyed. Photo: Getty

By Tony Webeck

A bogey-free round of six-under 66 has given Minjee Lee a share of the lead midway through the opening round of the Chevron Championship at Mission Hills Country Club in California.

Lee is tied with American Jennifer Kupcho after a near-faultless first round.

Starting on the back nine, Lee signalled her intent early with birdies at 11, 13 and 14 and then hit 5-iron into the par-5 18th for a two-putt birdie to close out a front nine of four-under 32.

A fifth birdie at the par-5 second and a closing birdie at the par-5 ninth has given the 25-year-old the perfect platform from which to pursue a second major championship inside 12 months.

Adamant that the pressure she puts on herself has not diminished on the back of her victory at the Amundi Evian Championship last July, the West Australian said her major breakthrough has fuelled her desire to add more.

“I know I have one under my belt but I do want a little bit more,” Lee said post-round.

“I have a little bit more belief in myself and in my game so I am a little more comfortable in hitting the shots that I choose.”

The cornerstone of her game, Lee’s ball-striking was a feature at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course on day one.

She averaged 296 yards off the tee, found 11 of 14 fairways and hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation, taking three more putts than Kupcho’s 24 to match her 66 as the early pace-setters.

“I started on the back nine and made three birdies in maybe the first six holes so that was off to a pretty nice start. Just tried to trust my process and have a good back nine,” said Lee of her best round at Mission Hills since shooting 64 in the third round in 2018.

“My second birdie (at the par-4 13th), I had to kind of weave through the trees. It hit the cart path and it went a little bit left so that was a nice birdie.

“The next hole, the par 3, the pin was tucked left and I made birdie there too so a really good shot in.

“I just really wanted to finish off with a birdie (at nine). I hit a really good drive and had only 216 metres to the pin so I just hit a little cut 3-wood and it just went over the left side over the back, just a chip and a putt.”

Meanwhile Gabi Ruffels once again underlined her major credentials with a fighting first round of four-under 68 to be just two back and tied-fourth.

Although without status on the LPGA Tour in 2022, Ruffels earned her place in the field courtesy of her tie for 19th 12 months ago, having finished in a tie for 15th at Mission Hills in 2020 in her major championship debut.

Parents Anna-Maria Fernandez and Ray Ruffels live just 20 minutes from the site of the year’s first major while the course itself is reminiscent of her home course, Toscana Country Club at Indian Wells.

On and off the golf course, it is an event where 21-year-old Ruffels feels right at home.

“I feel like I’m a local. My parents live 20 minutes away so I love it out here,” Ruffels said after her opening round.

“I feel comfortable out here and I feel like I practice on similar courses. I play at Toscana Country Club and they have two courses that are pretty similar, similar grass to this… I just feel comfortable out here.

“I don’t have any status so when I do get a start I’m just grateful to be here.

“Last year I had exemptions on the LPGA Tour but couldn’t quite get status through Q School.

“I just think it’s grateful being out here, having a lot of fun and playing against the best in the world.”

“I started on 10 and then birdie on 11 to get me going. I stayed steady there throughout and then I made a pretty good putt at 15 and made a good birdie on 18 in front of the fans,” she added.

It was a strong start too for Lee’s playing partner and fellow Perth native Hannah Green who also went bogey-free on day one.

Green hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation in her round of two-under par 70 but could only convert two of her birdie opportunities at 18 and two as she took 31 putts in Round 1.

Victorian Su Oh was five-over through her first eight holes of the championship but fought back on the front nine with three birdies to post two-over 74, keeping alive her hopes of making the cut on Friday. Leaderboard

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