Monday Jun 05, 2023

Aussie Minjee Lee closing in on US Women’s Open crown


History is on her side as Minjee Lee bids to join Australia’s two greatest female golfers as a winner of the US Women’s Open.

Lee is threatening to run away with the spoils after storming to a three-shot lead after the third round in North Carolina.

The world No.4 fired a four-under-par 67 on Saturday to surge to 13 under at Pine Needles Golf and Country Club, a course with a history of dominant champions.

The past three third-round US Women’s Open leaders at the venue have won the championship, including Lee’s fellow Australian Karrie Webb in 2001, leaving the 26-year-old well placed to claim her second career major.

Webb converted her third-round advantage into an eight-shot triumph at Pine Needles 21 years ago to defend the title she won the previous year, while Annika Sorenstam saluted by six after leading into Sunday at the famous course in 1996.

Webb was among the first to send Lee an encouraging text ahead of Sunday’s championship round.

“She texted me yesterday actually,” Lee said. “She said, ‘keep it going, let’s go Aussie’.”

Jan Stephenson was Australia’s only other US Women’s Open champion, winning in 1983.

Hot irons

It will take something special from her chasers or a dramatic collapse from Lee to deny the 26-year-old, who won her maiden major at last year’s Evian Championship in France.

The LPGA Tour’s 2022 scoring average leader, Lee won her last stroke play tournament leading into this week and has continued her scintillating iron play at Pine Needles.

While she started her third round slowly, making bogey at the fifth hole to fall two shots behind halfway co-leader Mina Harigae, Lee bounced straight back with a birdie on six.

The Perth ace followed that with a burst of four successive birdies from the ninth to the 12th holes to seize command.

“That was nice heading into the back nine. Yeah, overall pretty solid,” Lee said.

Lee overturned a seven-stroke final-round deficit to snare the Evian Championship last July.

But she is in a very different position this time around as the clear frontrunner.

“It’s totally different. The Evian I was kind of in a go mode, trying to make as many birdies as I could, trying to catch up,” Lee said.

“But it is the US Open and a three-shot lead is a nice cushion but it’s not enough to let your heart (rate) come down.

“I’m just going to stick to what I know. I’ve been to plenty of US Opens and been in pressure situations like this before.

“Just take away my experience from the other events and the other Opens and try and get it done tomorrow.”

Harigae’s round of 70 was enough to secure a place alongside Lee in Sunday’s final pairing at 10 under.

England’s Bronte Law (68) is outright third at seven under but six shots off the pace in what looks a two-way battle for the $US1.8 million ($A2.5 million) winner’s cheque – the biggest prize in women’s golf history.

New Zealand’s former world No.1 Lydia Ko shot the low third round, a 66 to climb into a six-way tie for fourth at six under.

World No.1 Jin Young Ko (71), fellow Korean Hye-Jin Choi (71), three-time major winner Anna Nordqvist (72), Swedish amateur Ingrid Lindblad (71) and China’s Xiyu Lin (67) are also six under.

They all have seven shots to make up on Lee.



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