Minjee Lee fared the best at Kenwood CC on Saturday, shooting a 65 on a course that played more than a stroke harder compared to rounds one and two of the Kroger Queen City Championship.
Lee started the day six shots behind the lead and made three consecutive birdies straight away, especially impressive as the par-4 No. 1 played the hardest on Saturday with a scoring average of 4.49 and only three birdies made there all day.
The Australian took the lead with two more birdies at the 10th and 11th then made two more at the 15th and 16th to reach 15-under. She finished bogey-free, one of only two players to do so.
“Obviously it's nice to get off to a fast start. Birdied the first three holes and kind of got nice momentum going into the back half of the round…” said Lee. “I just wanted to make more birdies after that. But the greens are so firm and really bouncy, so some of the holes you can – obviously you can bounce it off the front and bounce it short, but some of them are really unpredictable. I think it was just playing the course shot by shot, and coming down the last few holes, it got quite gusty and windy. I think overall I played really solid, and I was able to read the wind and the greens pretty well.”
Lee has won five of the seven times when she has held the 54-hole lead. The Australian was a two-time winner last season, earning her second major-championship victory at the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open. But she hasn’t yet won in 2023. She came close at the Cognizant Founders Cup in May but lost in a playoff to Jin Young Ko. Since then, her game has been trending upward, with one top-10 finish and 6 top-20 results in her last nine starts.
“I think it's always really hard to back up an amazing year with another really amazing year. You have high expectations, and I think managing that is probably the hardest thing because you know you've been there, so it's like, oh, why can't I do that every week,” she said. “But obviously you can't because you're human. I think just resetting my goals and trying to stay in the present I think has really helped, and I'm more of a one-shot-at-a-time kind of girl, and I know I can play and hit the ball well and putt well.”
England's Charley Hull started the day with a 7 at the par-4 first hole but proceeded to make seven birdies to close with a 68 and a share of second place at 13-under.
Overnight leader Peiyun Chien of Chinese Taipei started the day with a four-stroke lead over the field but closed with a 73 with four bogeys and a double at the first on her card, tied in second place with Hull.
“My start I was already 2-over, so I'm still thinking back nine has a lot of birdie chances I can make. Just stay patient and just trust yourself, play the best I can do,” said Chien who is proud of herself for fighting back “because I can trust myself better, trust myself that I can win on the LPGA for sure. Just need to stay patient and play every shot I can do and talk clear the carry to my caddie and commit every shot. I think I can do it for sure. I want to do it in my life.”
Switzerland's Morgane Metraux holds the solo fourth spot at 12-under after closing with a 70 while Swede Madelene Sagstrom (68) and Japan's Yuka Saso (70) sit at T5.