Chillin’ and not thinking. That’s how Minjee Lee will approach her three-shot lead as she seeks to complete a successful defence of the Cognizant Founders Cup in New Jersey.
The defending champion used a 50-foot birdie bomb on eight and an eagle at the par-5 12th to elevate herself to the top of the leaderboard at Upper Montclair Country Club where she triumphed by two shots 12 months ago.
After a somewhat muted start to her season where she didn’t finish inside the top 40 in her first four starts, Lee is now looking like the dominant force that came within a whisker of the world No.1 ranking last year.
Lee’s five-under 67 on Saturday was equal to the best of the day and at 12-under the West Australian has a handy buffer from Angel Yin (68) and Hae Ran Ryu (70) with fellow Aussie Grace Kim (68) five shots back at seven-under.
Sarah Kemp (75) fell from a share of the lead to a tie for 13th. She spoke on Friday of her admiration of Lee’s mindset, a mindset that shows no signs of changing as she seeks to close out a ninth LPGA Tour win.
“I’m just chillin’. I’m not really thinking too much or doing anything obviously,” said Lee, the reigning US Women’s Open champion6
“I’m just going to play my own game and stick to what I can control and stick to my game plan.
“I’m mostly pretty chill when I’m playing, like I show. But there is like a little bit of nerves. Just depends what kind of situation I’m in.
“I’m sure I’ll be nervous coming down the first hole, but I think they’re good nerves.
“I feel pretty good about the golf course and how I’m hitting it, so just going to play my game and play aggressively when I can and play smart when I have to.”
Ironically, it was a bogey at the opening hole that kicked Lee into gear.
A drive that just missed the fairway gave Lee a second shot under an overhanging branch. Her second ran through the back of the green and she was unable to save par. It took just one hole to get it back.
“I think it just gave me a little bit more motivation to make a birdie to get it back,” said Lee, who birdied six, eight and nine to reach 10-under at the turn.
“I put a string of birdies together and it was nice to finish on a good note.”
Kim made her run with three birdies in four holes after the turn as she continues her outstanding rookie season as Kemp struggled with six bogeys in her three-over 75.
A fourth Australian, Stephanie Kyriacou, is also inside the top 20 despite riding a roller-coaster through the middle of her round.
From the ninth hole Kyriacou went bogey-bogey-birdie-eagle-bogey in a round of one-over 73 to be four-under for the tournament.
On the Ladies European Tour, Kirsten Rudgeley added to her strong start to her rookie season with a tie for 13th at the Jabra Ladies Open in France.