The 26-year-old Australian shot a 4-under 67 on Saturday to take a three-stroke lead over American Mina Harigae into the final round of the U.S. Women’s Open.
“My approach (Sunday) is going to be the same as the last three days — I’m just going to try and make as many birdies as I can and give myself as many opportunities as I can on the greens,” Lee said.
At 13-under 200, Lee was within striking distance of the U.S. Women’s Open scoring record in relation to par held by Juli Inkster, who finished at 16-under 272 in 1999 at Old Waverly. Inkster did that on a par-72 course, while par is 71 at Pine Needles.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” Lee said. “If I play good, it’s going to come with it, right?”
The fourth-ranked Lee won the Founders Cup three weeks ago in New Jersey in the tour’s last stroke-play event for her seventh LPGA Tour victory. She’s trying to win her second major title after taking the 2021 Evian Championship.
South Korea’s Jin Young Ko and American Nelly Korda, the top players in the world ranking, failed to take advantage of moving day.
The top-ranked Ko struggled with her putter and finished at even-par 71, leaving her tied for fourth place at 6 under with three-time major winner Anna Nordqvist, Xiyu Lin, Lydia Ko, Hye-Jin Choi and amateur Ingrid Lindblad. Lydia Ko had the best round of the day with a 66, while Lin shot 67, Jim Young Ko 71 and Nodqvist and Choi 72.
Korda was 4 under after a 70.
“Definitely not the finish I wanted,” said Korda, who bogeyed the last three holes after battling to get to 7 under. “That was tough. I’m sure that was tough to watch, too.”
It appeared Harigae might make a run when she used a pitching wedge from 115 yards and her ball rolled within an inch from the cup. She tapped in for birdie and moved to 10 under, taking a one-shot lead over Lee.
But that seemed to awaken Lee.
Lee stormed back, making birdies on Nos. 9, 10, 11 and 12 to get to 13 under and took a four-shot lead after Harigae bogeyed 11 and 12. Lee repeatedly outdrove Harigae and used solid approach shots to set up putts of 12, 12, 8 and 6 feet, all of which she made during the four-hole run.
Harigae birdied the 16th to pull within three.
“She hit some great shots the next few holes, and I just couldn’t keep up with that,” Harigae said.
Said Lee: “I didn’t really think about how Mina was playing. I was just trying to make as many birdies as I could just to try and post a good score. I didn’t really notice her playing that much because I was really kind of in my zone.”
Lindblad provided a little excitement early on when she birdied three of her first four holes to move into the tie for the lead at 9 under, creating a buzz around course over whether she could become only the second amateur to win the U.S. Women’s Open and the first since 1967.
However, the LSU player from Sweden played the final 14 holes in 3-over par.
“It was a good start, and then I kind of hit a really bad shot on five and made bogey,” Lindblad said.
If she wins, she would be unable to collect the $1.8 million first-place prize because of her amateur status.