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USWO DAY 3 – Minjee Lee Seizes Lead

Mina Harigae Slips to Second 3 – Shots Back

 
Aussie player, Minjee Lee stares sown her shot with anticipation
Minjee Lee looks to join Jan Stephenson and Karrie Webb as Aussie winners of the U.S. Women's Open. © USGA/Darren Carroll

Major champion Minjee Lee played a near flawless round of golf on Saturday enroute to a score of 67 (-4 under) to seize the lead at the 77th U.S. Women’s Open. She will be in the last pairing on Sunday, again with Mina Harigae, but instead of being co-leaders as they were when the day started, she will have a 3-shot advantage. The only blemish on the scorecard for Minjee Lee was a bogey on the par 3, 5th hole, with 5 – birdies on the day. It marked the 3rd consecutive day of solid golf from Lee, the 4th ranked player in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. Lee’s course management has been spot-on so far this week as she has known when to play to the green to make par and when to attack the pins looking for birdies.

“Some of the pins you just can’t play to, you have to play the safe route and take your par, like your two-putt. If it’s 30 feet, it’s 30 feet. Yeah, think that it has helped (softer greens) . . . we can hit the greens a bit more easily and not have to run it off the front.”

Looking to Add another Major

Prior to winning the 2021 Amundi Evian Championship in France, Minjee Lee held the unofficial title of the best player to have never won a major title. She has had a stellar amateur career, winning the Australian Women’s Amateur title two years in a row (2012 – 2014), while also winning the U.S. Girl’s Junior Championship among other accomplishments. A former world number one in the women’s amateur rankings, Lee also competed in the first International Crown event as an amateur player, joining Karrie Webb, Katherine Kirk, and Lindsey Wright. So winning her first major was a significant accomplishment for her. On Sunday, she looks to add the biggest major championship in women’s golf. To accomplish her goal, she will be drawing upon all of her previous experience.

 
Minjee Lee (left) and Mina Harigae will be paired again in the final group on Sunday as both players seek to claim their first U.S. Women's Open championship. © USGA/Darren Carroll
 

“I’m just going to stick to what I know. I’ve been to plenty of U.S. 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.”

When she walks to the first tee on Sunday, Lee will be looking to join her mentor Karrie Webb as well as Jan Stephenson as the only Aussie players to win the prestigious U.S. Women’s Open championship. She mentioned that Karrie even reached out to her.

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

Mina Harigae watching the flight of her golf ball after hitting a tee shot
Mina Harigae looks to rebound with another low round on Sunday. © USGA/Darren Carroll

Mina Harigae

As she woke up on Saturday morning, Mina Harigae again found herself in the position of being a 36-hole co-leader of a major championship . Prior to today, it was last summer at the AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie. It’s an experience that Harigae has been able to draw upon this week as she completed Saturday’s 3rd round with a -1 under score of 70 putting her into solo second place at -10 under, 3-shots behind Minjee Lee. Harigae is 3-shots ahead of Bronte Law who sits in solo 3rd place at -7 under. As for her round today, Harigae experienced a little bit of nervousness at the outset but was able to settle down and play some solid golf.

“I was a little nervous in the beginning, but I was able to hit some good shots. My middle was pretty good. Then got a little – hit squirrelly shots, but then I made a good birdie on 16. Overall, I’m just happy with the way I was able to hang in there.”

As she gets herself prepared for the final round on Sunday, Harigae is going to have to play a solid game, not taking unnecessary chances in situations where there is a low probability of success. Instead, she will have to play to the greens looking to make par more often than not, but she must also be ready to pounce when the opportunities present themselves for scoring. Her low round of 64 on Thursday is proof enough that she has the game to make a charge on Sunday and put some pressure on Minjee Lee. Being in second place, a few shots back should help her frame of mind as she won’t have the additional pressure of having to defend a lead.

Her game is in a very good spot, and on Saturday, her irons and approach shots were dialed in as she finished the day 3rd overall in “proximity to the hole” averaging a distance of 24 feet, 7 inches from the hole. It will take more of the same on Sunday as she looks to convert more of those opportunities into birdies.

The fact that Harigae is in this position at all is a testament to the work that she has put into her game over the past couple of years as she looks to keep herself as much as possible on an even keel emotionally.

“I can control my emotions a lot better, especially when there’s high tension, when things don’t go my way. I’m happy with the way I’m handling it.” As for how she has prepared herself for this aspect of the game, she said that it involved plenty of introspection. “Just a lot of self-awareness, a lot of butt kicking from my caddie. A lot of good hard talks. But, I just realized if I wanted to get to the next level, I really had to get a hold of myself emotionally.”

England's Bronte Law hitting another iron shot
Bronte Law has been superb with her approach game at the 2022 U.S. Women's Open championship. © USGA/Darren Carroll

Bronte Law

Perhaps the surprise of the day was the play of Bronte Law who has been playing under the radar this week. On Saturday, she shot a 68, her lowest score of the tournament, with 5-birdies and 2-bogeys. Most impressively, she played exceptionally well on the second nine, coming into the clubhouse with a 32 on the strength of 4-birdies, including the par-4, 17th hole – the most difficult hole all week, playing almost half a stroke over par.

“Didn’t have the best start that I was looking for, but made a nice birdie on 3 to make up for the bogey on 2. Was hitting a lot of good shots, not really making so many of the putts, which is frustrating. But I knew if I kept hitting a lot of good shots that those chances would still be there on the backside. So yeah, stayed patient, created some chances on the back nine and took advantage of those.”

The former UCLA Bruin from England, came into this week ranked 143rd in the world rankings, having had a couple of tough seasons on the LPGA. With the spotlight of the British media focused on Georgia Hall, Bronte Law has been able to go about her business rather quietly. That will change on Sunday though, as she is in a solid position to possibly pull out a win. If she can stay in control of her game, she could very well post a below par number and if the leaders stumble, then she could be the beneficiary.

Her play has been strong all week, particularly her approach game where she is averaging 29ft. 8in. in proximity to the hole – the 6th best over the last 3 – rounds. On Saturday, she went even better, finding the greens 14 out of 18 times, with an average proximity to the hole of only 22ft., 7in. – the best performance of the day.

Her approach game today was +3.26 Strokes Gained over the field, and that is something that she will need to do again on Sunday if she is going to post another sub-par round. As for her game plan for Sunday, she is not going to try and force things, attacking in areas that could lead to big numbers, but rather play smart and try to convert more of her birdie opportunities.

“Being smart versus someone taking on a pin and it going a little wrong, that could result in three shots. I’m certainly not going to be playing – changing my game plan. Just hoping that a couple more putts drop out there. Today could have been equally three, four shots better.”

Bronte Law will be paired with Lydia Ko in the penultimate group, teeing off at 2:23 p.m. Eastern. Minjee Lee and Mina Harigae will once again be paired in the final group, with a 2:34 p.m. tee time. The weather forecast calls for 0% precipitation with highs of 86° F / 30 ° Celsius. At the time of writing, the USGA probability of winning app, has Minjee Lee at 74.75% and Mina Harigae at 12.66%

 

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