There’s been a change at the top but the Australian flag continues to fly high as a refreshed Minjee Lee earned a share of the lead at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club.
A day after Katherine Kirk shot 63 to have a share of top spot, Lee matched her countrywoman’s score in a bogey-free round of 8-under to be level with US Women’s Open runner up Nasa Hataoka (65) at 12-under par with one round left to play.
In a supreme display of ball-striking that saw her hit 12 of 13 fairways and 16 of 18 greens, Lee built her round on an outward nine of 6-under 30 that included a run of five birdies in the space of six holes.
But more than her impressive ball-striking stats, Lee pointed to a putter that got hot as the primary reason for being able to put herself in contention.
“It’s pretty soft so you can be pretty aggressive at the pins. As long as your putter is hot I think you’re going to have a chance,” said Lee, who needed just 27 putts in Saturday’s round.
“Some of the holes I really hit it close to make birdie, and some of the holes I had a couple 15, 20-footers, so good length birdie putts.
“Yesterday afternoon it got a little bumpy on the greens, so I was just trying to take advantage of the nice putting surface this morning.
“I was seeing really good lines, like the breaks on those putts, so I could really trust that I had the right line to have the right speed.”
Following a hectic schedule that included her breakthrough Major title at the Amundi Evian Championship, the AIG Women’s Open and the Tokyo Olympic Games, Lee downed the tools for two weeks to recharge the batteries.
The 25-year-old opened with a round of 4-under 67 and then got hot with the putter to surge to the top of the leaderboard.
“I really, really needed that month off,” said Lee.
“Two weeks felt like two days pretty much, so I didn’t touch a club for 15 days.
“Practiced the last two weeks and then came here.
“Coming into the tournament after a month off, I’m feeling pretty fresh and just wanted to post a couple good scores.”
Including her Evian triumph Lee boasts three top-five finishes in her past four starts and has an enviable record in Arkansas with four top-10s in six previous appearances.
“I really love coming back,” said the six-time LPGA Tour winner.
“The hospitality and fans are always great. I think that really makes the tournament special.”
Three bogeys late in her round saw Kirk (71) fall to a tie for ninth while twin eagles at the 396-yard par-4 13th and the par-5 18th provided the cornerstones of Su Oh’s 5-under 66 to climb into a tie for 35th.
Sarah Jane Smith posted her second consecutive round of 1-under 70 to advance to the final round, Sarah Kemp (74) dropping outside the cut line.