Minjee Lee claimed her third LPGA victory in style at the "Blue Bay LPGA" on Hainan Island in China today.
The 20-year-old began the final round tied for the lead with 2012 ISPS Handa Women's Open Champion Jessica Korda and played near-flawless golf to card a final round of 70. The young West Australian was made to work for the victory with Korda and world No. 2 Thai superstar Ariya Jutanugarn pushing her all the way.
Lee, who had led by 6 shots heading into the weekend got off to the perfect start snatching the outright lead from Korda courtesy of a chip at the par-four first hole, and continued to look confident as she headed into the back nine with a three-shot lead.
Lee showed no signs of wavering and looked as solid as a rock on the tough stretch from 10 through 16, and with a two-stroke lead and just two holes left to play it seemed that she would stroll to her third LPGA victory. However, golf is rarely this predictable and there would prove to be another twist to this tale.
All three players hit the green in regulation at the difficult par 3 17th hole, with Lee knocking her long birdie attempt two metres past the hole.
Jutanagarn, who has five LPGA wins to her credit in 2016 was looking for an opportunity to make up ground on the world number one Lydia Ko who had taken the week off, holed from 8 metres for a birdie to put the pressure back on Lee. The 20-year old would miss her par putt and the two headed to par 5 18th tee tied at 11 under par, one shot clear of Korda.
The drama however would prove to be far from over. Jutanugarn strode confidently to the tee and proceeded to pull her normally reliable three-wood into the water on the left, just as she had done at the final hole at the ANA Inspiration in April this year when leading.
Korda ensured that the pressure remained on Lee, hitting a superb tee shot which ensured that she could reach the par 5 in two. The Australian responded predictably with a safe tee shot into the semi-rough on the right.
From a tough lie Lee hit a great second shot which finished just short of the green, while Korda, with nothing to lose hit a superb second to the back fringe of the green to give herself a chance of eagle
Lee's short game is up there with the very best on the LPGA and she showed this once again under pressure, pitching to within a metre of the hole. Korda would miss her eagle chance to leave Lee with center stage. She made no mistake and raised her arms in relief as she holed her putt and celebrated her third LPGA title.
"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"
The LPGA Tour heads to Malaysia next week for the Sime Darby LPGA.
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