Unblemished run propels Minjee Lee to Volvik title
Ann Arbor — For 38 holes, Minjee Lee was virtually flawless.
That’s how long she went without a bogey at the Volvik Championship, a stretch that began late in the second round on Friday and looked like it would last through the final hole on Sunday.
So when the three-time LPGA tournament champion — holding a one-shot lead — three-putted from 75 feet on the par-4 17th hole during the final round at Travis Pointe Country Club on Sunday, it could have provided a bit of a shock to the system.
After all, Lee entered the final round with a two-shot lead and never trailed, but suddenly found herself in a tie at 15-under with I.K. Kim, who had just birdied No. 18 to finish a round of 5-under 67.
That’s when her near flawless play got a bit of a break as her second shot on the par-5 18th just missed clipping some tree branches and instead landed on the fringe of the green, pin high. Lee managed to chip to about 3 feet then knocked in the birdie putt to win by one shot with a 16-under score of 272.
“Yeah, I made bogey on the 17th, and coming off of that hole I pretty much knew I had to make birdie to win the tournament,” Lee said. “So yeah, I was a little bit nervous on the tee, but I was probably a little bit more nervous on the second shot. I just tried to focus on where to go and just hit my shot.”
The result was win No. 4 on her career as Lee heads to the U.S. Women’s Open riding a wave of confidence. It also ended a victory drought that dated back to 2016.
However, she was hardly struggling during that time, recording 10 top-10 finishes in 2017 and entering this week’s tournament with five top-10 finishes this season, highlighted by a runner-up showing last month at the Mediheal Championship.
Entering next week’s major, Lee was happy to get rid of what felt to her like an especially long winless streak.
“I feel like it was a long time coming a little bit,” Lee said. “I had a lot of good finishes, even last year and beginning of this year. Yeah, it's really nice to have a win under my belt this year. Going into the Open, it's certainly definitely nice to have a win.”
Kim finished one shot back as she continues to find her game, a process made more difficult when her clubs were stolen from a flight in January. Several were later recovered at a resale shop in March, but it’s taken until now for last season’s British Open champion to start feeling comfortable again.
“I haven't played that much this year and I had a couple hiccups here and there with the new clubs,” Kim said. “I'm still trying out a few things. Everything's coming along and I really feel grateful for all the support and the patience with everything. I feel like it's been a lot of grinding, so it's really nice to have some kind of assurance.”
Moriya Jutanugarn fired a 7-under 65 to finish two back at 14-under while Su Oh and Lindy Duncan were at 13-under. Megan Khang finished at 12-under while 2016 Volvik champion Ariya Jutanugarn, Danielle Kang and Stacy Lewis, who played in the final group with Lee, were at 11-under.
“It was another solid round and, you know, just being a lot of patient,” Moriya Jutanugarn said. “I have a lot of fun and just, you know, trying to play one shot at a time.”
As well as Moriya Jutanugarn and Kim played on Sunday, it was clear early on Lee was going to be hard to beat.
The native of Perth, Australia, birdied three of her first four holes to take a three-shot lead. Things slowed down until the par-5 14th when her second shot just cleared a set of bunkers near a water hazard and hopped on the green, rolling to about 30 feet from the hole.
Lee didn’t get the eagle, but a tap-in birdie gave her the cushion she needed heading into No. 17.
“Unbelievable, especially early,” Lewis said of Lee’s play. “She was rolling it great early on and making everything. I think we were both 3-under through five and it’s hard to get close when somebody does that. But she played great all day and played solid.”
After Lee knocked in the winning putt, she was doused with a water by several fellow players. Later there was cheesecake and flowers from her parents, all capping a pretty satisfying birthday.
“I feel like because it was my birthday, either way I would have been happy,” Lee said. “Obviously it's nice to have a win, sort of a present to myself.”