04 Jun 2022 | Professional golf |
Minjee Lee on verge of another major triumph
by PGA of Australia
By Tony Webeck
A four-hole birdie blitz has propelled Minjee Lee to a three-stroke lead heading into the final round of the US Women’s Open at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in North Carolina.
Lee’s round of four-under 67 gives her a three-round total of 13-under and her 200 strokes through 54-holes betters the previous lowest mark in a US Women’s Open of 201 set by Juli Inkster in 1999.
The West Australian finds herself in the polar opposite position to when she came from seven strokes back to win her first major at the 2021 Amundi Evian Championship but playing in such a manner that has experts predicting a runaway win.
The past three US Women’s Open champions at Pine Needles – including Karrie Webb in 2001 – all held the 54-hole lead and NBC Golf Central lead analyst Brandel Chamblee is expecting Lee to continue that trend.
“I just don’t see a threat to Minjee Lee other than Minjee Lee, and I don’t even think that’s a threat,” Chamblee said post-round on ‘Live From the US Women’s Open’.
“It’s $US1.8 million, the US Open, a second major championship, these are normal things to have enter your mind for anybody but I just don’t see a stumbling block for Minjee Lee tomorrow.
“Every now and then a player will come along who is uniquely prepared and focused for a major championship.
“They are talented enough to execute a game-plan, they’re patient enough to stick to that game-plan and they move slow enough – they are Zen-like – to be seemingly impervious to major championship pressure.
“When I think of Minjee Lee, that’s the type of player I think of.
“She looks to me that she is going to run away and hide from this field.”
Not only does Lee have a three-stroke buffer to American Mina Harigae (70) but there is a further three strokes back to Bronte Law (68) in outright third with major champions Lydia Ko (66), Jin Young Ko (71) and Anna Nordqvist (72) part of a six-way tie for fourth at six-under.
It is the first time that the 26-year-old has held the 54-hole lead at a major championship but has promised to continue to chase birdies when the time is right.
“Totally different. Evian I was in go-mode trying to make as many birdies as I could, trying to catch up, but it is the US Open,” Lee said of the comparison to her major breakthrough last year.
“A three-shot lead is a nice cushion but it’s not enough to let your heart come down.
“I’m just going to be focused on my own game and take one shot at a time. On the par 5s I can be pretty aggressive and some of the shots you have wedges in so on those holes you can be pretty aggressive.”
Although the day ended with a handy advantage, Lee had to repel an early two-shot swing to regain the lead.
Her three-putt bogey at the par-3 fifth and Harigae’s birdie gave the American a two-shot lead, a lead that Lee halved with a bounce-back birdie at the par-4 sixth.
Harigae’s bogey at seven brought Lee back tied at the top but the American edged ahead once more with a birdie at eight.
The pair traded birdies at the par-4 ninth and were tied again when Lee went back-to-back with birdie at the par-5 10th.
For the second time in the round there was a two-shot swing at the par-4 11th, Lee’s birdie and Harigae’s bogey giving the Aussie a two-shot advantage heading into the meat of the back nine.
She extended that lead to three with her fourth birdie on the trot at 12 and despite two missed opportunities to further pull away safely parred her way home, closing out her third round with an up-and-down from the front of the 18th green.
Ten years on from her US Junior Girls triumph and seeking to become the third Australian winner of the US Women’s Open alongside Webb (2000, 2001) and Jan Stephenson (1983), a second major victory would elevate Lee into rare company.
“This golf course has a history of producing legendary winners and blow-out wins,” Chamblee added.
“I look at this leaderboard and Minjee Lee, she’s sneaking up on legendary status. She’s going to creep into that no doubt. By the time she finishes she might well be a legend but this time tomorrow night we might well be talking about another blow-out victory.”
Lee’s fellow West Australian Hannah Green is tied for 20th following a third round of one-over 72 that featured an eagle at the par-5 15th but also a triple bogey at the par-4 17th, Grace Kim in a share of 60th after a 75 on day three.
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