Minjee Lee eyes top spot, end to Aussie drought at US Women’s Open

Minjee Lee of Australia hits her tee shot on the sixth hole during the second round of the Pure Silk Championship presented by Visit Williamsburg on the River Course at Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Virginia May 24, 2019. — AFP pic
Minjee Lee of Australia hits her tee shot on the sixth hole during the second round of the Pure Silk Championship presented by Visit Williamsburg on the River Course at Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Virginia May 24, 2019. — AFP pic

MIAMI, May 29 — Minjee Lee will bid to end Australia’s 13-year wait for a major at the US Women’s Open tomorrow as she targets a maiden victory that could vault her to the top of the world rankings.

The 23-year-old from Perth heads into this week’s second major of 2019 fresh from her fifth LPGA Tour victory, a dazzling four-shot win at the Los Angeles Open last month.

That triumph saw Lee move up to second in the world rankings, and within striking distance of South Korea’s world number one Ko Jin-young.

A victory at the Country Club of Charleston in South Carolina this week would see Lee supplant Ko at the top of the rankings.

It would also earn Lee the largest winner’s cheque in the history of women’s golf after the United States Golf Association confirmed this week that the champion will pocket a prize of US$1 million (RM4.19 million).

Lee heads into the tournament after a remarkably consistent start to the season which has yielded five top 10 finishes including her win in Los Angeles in April.

She will tee off tomorrow in arguably the star group of the opening rounds, alongside world number one Ko and South Korea’s seven-time major winner Park In-bee.

Park, a two-time winner of the US Women’s Open who is chasing a first major since 2015, has spent this year attempting to iron out problems with her putting game.

“I haven’t been really putting well this year at all,” she said. “I have been striking the ball really, really good this year, probably better than any other years on Tour.

“Just the putter wasn’t really there. That’s really been the disappointing part of my game this year. Other than that, it has been really, really good.”

Strength in depth

The strength of the women’s game is reflected in the fact that no single player has been able to establish dominance this year.

The first 12 tournaments of the year have produced 11 different winners, with only world number one Ko winning more than title in 2019.

The last eight women’s majors meanwhile have had eight different winners, while the US Women’s Open has not had a back-to-back champion since Australia’s Karrie Webb won in 2000 and 2001.

That fact would suggest the odds are stacked against Thailand’s defending champion Ariya Jutanugarn.

The 23-year-old from Bangkok won her second career major at the US Women’s Open 12 months ago, and is likely to be at home in temperatures this week which are expected to hover above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) for most of the tournament.

“I’m Thai, so it doesn’t really affect me,” Ariya replied yesterday when asked about how she would cope with the heat.

If the course dries out, it may also work to Ariya’s advantage given her status as one of the longest hitters in the women’s game.

The Thai star meanwhile said she had learned from the mistakes which almost torpedoed her hopes last year, when she frittered away a seven-shot lead with just nine holes remaining to end up in a playoff against South Korea’s Kim Hyo-joo, which she eventually won on the fourth hole.

“All I was thinking was ‘I’m in seven-shot lead. I’m going to keep the seven-shot lead until the last hole. It should be easy for me to win the tournament,’” Ariya said.

“But that’s not a good way to think. I still have to stick with my process because, when I’m thinking like this — about my seven-shot lead — it’s not helping me to even hit a good golf shot.” — AFP