Minjee Lee claims big win in China
24 October 2016
GOLF: Rio 2016 Olympian Minjee Lee secured her third win on the world's toughest female tour when she closed out the $US2.1 million LPGA Blue Bay event in China today.
The 20-year-old Lee is approaching a world top 10 ranking after he second win of the season, to go with the triumph she had in her rookie year, 2015.
The Perth superstar began the final round tied for the lead with Jessica Korda of the United States, and she played near-flawless golf to card a final 70, although she was made to work to the finish against Korda and the world No. 2, Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand.
Lee, who had led by four shots through two rounds before a stuttering third round 73, immediately grabbed the outright lead by a shot when she chipped in at the par-four first hole today.
She was never headed beyond that, stretching the buffer to three shots through the front nine.
But there was a flutter at the par-three 17th hole where Jutanugarn rattled in a long birdie putt and Lee, with a similar-length birdie putt, raced it past the cup and missed the par-saving effort on the way back. A two-shot swing meant that the Thai superstar was level with Lee at 12-under, with Korda just a shot back at 11-under, with the par-five 18th hole to come.
The drama did not subside. Jutanugarn walked to the tee and promptly hooked her three-wood shot into the lake on the left, virtually surrendering her chances. But Korda remained dangerous, hitting a great second on to the back fringe of the green to give herself a chance of eagle, while Lee came up just short of the green for two.
Ultimately the Australian had to dig deep one last time. A beautiful chip to a metre followed by a solid birdie putt gave her the win after Korda's eagle putt had run by the left of the cup. Relieved rather than excited, she collapsed into a hug with her tearful mother Clara immediately afterward. It was Clara Lee, South Korean immigrant and single-figure player, who introduced her daughter to the game when she was around nine years old in Perth. The Lees also have a son, Minwoo, 18, in the Golf Australia system and promising to have a fine career.
"I think my heart was, like, coming out of my chest,'' said the young woman from Perth after rounds of 65-67-73-70 to finish 13-under. "Actually even on that last putt. I was a little nervous all day, actually. I had to really work for this win. I'm glad I came out on top. They're great competitors.''
Lee surged to No. 6 on the Race to CME Globe rankings, giving her a chance of winning the $US 1 million prize bonus when the LPGA Tour championship happens in Florida next month. Her world ranking -- No. 17 before this week -- could be at a career-best, too. Earlier this year after she won the Lotte Championship in Hawaii, she was No. 12 in the world.
Lee was the world's No. 1 amateur and came through the systems run by Golf Australia and Golf Western Australia, helping her country to a win in the Queen Sirikit Cup, the world teams championship for female amateurs, twice winning the Australian amateur and also the US junior amateur. She is proving to be every bit as good a professional as she promised to be.
Along with Su Oh, Marc Leishman and Marcus Fraser, Lee lined up in the green and gold as golf made its return to Olympic competition for the first time since the 1904 Games. Lee performed strongly in Rio to finish 7th.