Minjee Lee storms to 2-shot LPGA lead in Cincinnati

CINCINNATI (AP) — Two-time major champion Minjee Lee opened with three straight birdies, made up a six-shot deficit at the turn and posted a 7-under 65 on Saturday to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Kroger Queen City Championship.

Lee played bogey-free on a Kenwood Country Club course that was so firm that even some shots with wedge had a hard time staying on the greens. She leaned on her putter, closing out her round with a 12-foot par save.

That gave her a two-shot lead over Charley Hull of England and Peiyun Chien of Taiwan, who rallied from a rough start to get back to even par for the day only to go long over the 18th green and miss a 5-foot par putt.

Hull bounced back from a triple bogey to start the third round with seven birdies, posting a 68 that gets her in the final group. Chien is making her 140th start on the LPGA Tour and had her first 36-hole lead. It was gone by the turn.

Chien started with a double bogey, answered with two straight birdied but then lost ground with three bogeys over four holes to close out the front nine. That included a three-putt bogey on No. 9 that put her one shot behind for the first time all day.

Lee never really slowed after her fast start. She went in front with a delicate flop shot from below the green on the reachable par-4 10th, the ball rolling out to a few feet for birdie. She made a 15-foot birdie on the next hole and at one point was three shots clear.

“Having that momentum really helps, especially when you can save your par putts,” Lee said. “That's the key for momentum. Making birdies is nice, but key par putts are important, too.”

Lee was at 15-under 201 as she goes for her first win this year. She had a three-shot lead at the Founders Cup earlier this summer, only for Jin Young Ko to rally to beat her.

Lee began to pull away with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 15th, followed by a wedge into 12 feet for birdie on the 16th.

Hull tried to keep pace with three birdies over his last six holes.

“Laughed it off and birdied the next couple,” Hull said of her start. “It was quite windy, quite tricky. Patches of them (the greens) are firm, other patches are spinning. It's tricky, which I quite like. It plays into my hands.”

Chien drove into a bunker and got up-and-down for birdie on the 10th and made a great par save from well behind the green on the par-3 11th, hitting a flop shot up a steep slope to a few feet away from the back pin. She hit wedge to 5 feet on the 16th for birdie, added another on the 17th with a 15-foot birdie from the fringe and was one behind.

But her approach to the 18th bounced hard and rolled over the green. She used putter to get it about 5 feet from the hole and missed it on the high side.

Morgane Metraux of Switzerland birdied the 18th for a 70 and was three shots behind. Metraux came into the tournament at No. 107 in the Race to CME Globe and is running out of tournaments to get into the top 80 who have full status for next year.

Ruoning Yin of China, who needs to finish solo fourth or better to reach No. 1 in the women's world ranking, began her round with three straight bogeys. She got two of those shots back and had a 73, leaving her six shots behind.


AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf