SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. (AP) — The awesome Aussie would not be denied.
Minjee Lee won the U.S. Women’s Open by four strokes over Mina Harigae at Pine Needles on Sunday to earn $1.8 million, the largest payout in the history of women’s golf.
Lee closed with an even-par 71 to finish at 13-under 271 after the Australian flirted with the tournament record of 16 under set by Juli Inkster in 1999 at Old Waverly.
“I mean, I’m speechless,” Lee said. “I can’t believe it right now. No, it’s just super, super special and just a great honor. It’s been my dream since I was a little girl. It’s the one that I always wanted to win on; now I’ve done it, and just feels amazing.”
Lee’s winnings came from a record $10 million purse.
“We’re only moving in the right direction,” Lee said. “I think it’s only going to get better and better from here. It’s such a large sum, and I’m really honored to be the first winner I guess of this sum. We’re only going to get better and better.”
Harigae shot a 72 for her best finish in a major and a check of slightly more than $1 million.
Although she knew she had no chance to win down the stretch, Harigae said it was still stressful knowing that $1 million — a check that is larger than the winner makes at most LPGA Tour events — was at stake.
“I’m not going to lie, my stomach hurt the last couple holes coming down the stretch,” Harigae said. “I was really stressed out, but I was really just focusing on one shot at a time, making solid contact, and just hitting good putts.”
South Korea’s Hye-Jin Choi was one of only two players to break par Sunday, carding a 70 to finish third at 7 under.
South Korea’s Jin Young Ko, the world’s No. 1-ranked player, finished fourth at 6 under, seven shots back of the lead after a 71. Lydia Ko was at 5 under after a 72.
Ingrid Lindblad, the LSU player from Sweden, was the low amateur at 1 under, tying for 11th after a 76.
The 26-year-old Lee was never challenged on a course that played significantly tougher than the previous three days. She opened with rounds of 67, 66 and 67.
Lee became the sixth straight international player to win the U.S. Women’s Open and the first from Australia since mentor Karrie Webb in 2001. It was her second win at a major championship overall after winning the Evian Championship last July. Her previous best finish at the U.S. Open was a tie for 11th in 2017.
Lee, who entered the week ranked No. 4 in the world, has won eight LPGA Tour events and became the first repeat winner this year following her victory at the Founders Cup three weeks ago in New Jersey.
Lee entered the final round with a three-stroke lead over Harigae and said after the third round her goal was to continue to stay aggressive and make birdies.
She lived up to that early on, birdieing the first two holes to move to 15 under and take a five-stroke lead over Harigae.
She stumbled a bit with bogeys on Nos. 5 and 7, but was still able to make the turn at even-par 35 and with a four-stroke cushion when Harigae also bogeyed the seventh. The lead increased to five after Harigae bogeyed the par-4 11th hole, all but sealing the win.
Lee then knocked in a bending nine-foot birdie putt on No. 12 to push the lead to six, prompting her to thrust her arm in celebration. She appeared to eye Inkster’s record when she got to 15 under after a birdie on the par-5 15th hole, but closed with two bogeys.
Harigae didn’t make her first birdie until the 15th hole.
Lee said she’s never been more nervous on a golf course — even though she never led by fewer than three strokes.
“Even with a three-shot lead I never felt comfortable today,” Lee said. “I felt like I still needed to play well. I still needed to hold my ground. That’s pretty much what I did. To start aggressively, I think it was the right move, and then after that I had quite a big lead, so I was able to just play my game just to finish.”
Webb, Australia’s greatest female golfer with seven majors, has known Lee since she was 14. She has a scholarship program to bring young Aussie amateurs to majors to spend a week with her and experience it all. Minjee won the scholarship twice.
Webb won her second U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles in 2001 by eight shots.
Webb was at Philadelphia Cricket Club at a pre-arranged outing, charged up her phone until it was time to tee off and spent the day checking scores, then watched on streaming the final three holes.
“So amazing. Just the way she played all week, she never looked like the moment was getting to her at all. I think she struggled a little bit at the start of last year with putting, and now it’s the best part of the game for her. If she keeps putting like that, she’s got the whole package.”
Webb said she texted her during the week, not with any advice but simple phrases like “I love your work.”
Nelly Korda closed with a 73 on Sunday to tie for eighth at 2 under in her first tournament since undergoing surgery to repair a blood clot in her left arm.
“The first week back you have rust, right, so you don’t really expect much from your game,” said Korda, the world’s No. 2 player. “You don’t know where your game is at. Knowing that I can play on a really tough golf course at a major and even kind of be in contention is definitely a positive.”
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