23 Aug 2020 | Professional golf |

Unlucky Lee closes on major crown

by Mark Hayes

Minjee Lee was absolutely brilliant in plotting a path around Royal Troon today.
Minjee Lee was absolutely brilliant in plotting a path around Royal Troon today.

Minjee Lee is within touching distance of her first major championship.

But despite her proximity to glory and a second consecutive 69 at tricky Royal Troon, only a golfer of Lee’s seemingly boundless patience would not have expected more from a stunning third round at the Women’s Open in Scotland.

Lee, 24, will start the final round at one under par, three shots adrift of bolter Sophia Popov, who played arguably the round of her life to string out the chasing field.

Because while she has obviously have enjoyed better scores in her short but dazzling career, Lee has rarely played a more consistent ball-striking round on such a testing course.

The Royal Fremantle member endured just one bogey when she pushed a 1.5m par try on the 12th just right after she’d slightly mishit her approach to the green.

From afar, it appeared as thought that might have been the only mis-step she took all day.

There were birdies on the third, fourth and 13th holes, but there were several low-speed lip-outs on birdie tries and another handful of tap-in pars from other great birdie rolls.

It’s a course on which 69 is always good, it’s just that it was easily the worst score for which she could possibly have signed.

"I feel like the first nine I played pretty solid and even the back nine, but a couple of my putts lipped out or were really close to going in," Lee said after her round.

"I would have liked to see those drop, but two under (today) ... I’m pretty happy with that."

Lee said she'd attack tomorrow if given a chance and was "super excited" about her position.

"I heard the wind was going to die down a bit, so I feel like I could be a bit more aggressive tomorrow.

"Obviously I can’t get ahead of myself, just concentrate on my game … and post a low score."

Lee and playing partner, Thailand’s Jasmine Suwannapura (69 for -1 in total), are the only women other than Popov in red numbers. And other than Lydia Ko at +2, there are no other major champions within seven strokes of the German leader.

Popov was indefatigable. She wasn’t even in the field until she finished in the top 10 at the LPGA Tour event in Ohio two weeks ago, but she showed the nerve of a veteran.

Popov was runner-up on the Symetra Tour in Arizona last week and only arrived in Scotland on Tuesday for her first Women’s Open in nine years.

But you wouldn’t have known.

She lashed a driver off the deck to within metres for an eagle on the fourth, then caught fire midway through the back nine to stretch her advantage.

Among those that Popov’s 67 pushed to the outer edge of contention is Aussie Katherine Kirk, who’d earlier matched the German’s score to storm up the leaderboard.

Kirk, who’d begun brightly on Thursday but seemingly faded from the main stage late in her second round, was exemplary throughout her third.

The veteran Queenslander, runner-up in this event in 2010, made five birdies from the fifth through the 15th holes to reignite her hopes.

Having begun her Saturday round in 40th place, she finished it in a share of 10th with a share of the week’s lowest score despite a bogey on the exposed par-3 17th.

Hannah Green was good without being great for her third-round 73 that left her at seven over.

The Mount Lawley member made two birdies, but gave up any momentum with four bogeys to fall from contention.

Sarah Jane Smith was similarly a model of consistency without really threatening a charge, carding a fine 72 to sit at 10 over.

The Queenslander, playing the Open as a mother for the first time, actually fell to 10 over on the 10th hole of her second round, so to finish at that mark after 54 holes is testament to her steady improvement.

Sydneysider Steph Kyriacou was again plucky, but a couple of double-bogeys did her card unjust damage.

Playing in just her third tournament as a professional, the St Michael’s member fired a 78 to fall to 16 over.

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