SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. — Minjee Lee surpassed Mina Harigae with a 4-under 67 on Moving Day in the U.S. Women's Open at Pine Needles.
Both Lee and Harigae were tied at 9 under going into Saturday’s round. Although it may have seemed like the two players were going head-to-head on the course, Lee had a different game plan.
“I didn't really notice [Mina] playing that much because I was really kind of in my zone," Lee said. "I was just trying to make as many birdies as I could just to try and post a good score.”
Lee, who has seven LPGA victories, including her first major win at last year’s Evian Championship, understands what needs to happen to get major No. 2.
“I’m just going to stick to what I know,” she said. “I’ve been to plenty of U.S. Opens and been in pressure situations like this before. Just take away my experience from the other events and the other Opens and try and get it done tomorrow.”
Harigae, who's three shots behind Lee, following a 1-under 70, also has seven wins as a professional, but none on the LPGA. She experienced the pressure of being in contention at a major in last year’s AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie. She was tied for the lead entering the weekend, but shot 76 in Round 3 and ultimately tied for 13th. She said she has learned from that experience and was able to use it on Saturday. Following back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 11 and 12, she steadied herself to play her final six holes in 1 under.
“I was a little nervous in the beginning, but I was able to hit some good shots,” Harigae said. “I made a good birdie on [No.] 16. I think, overall, I'm just happy with the way I was able to hang in there. I can control my emotions a lot better, especially when there's high tension when things don't go my way.”
Lee, likewise, did a great job of staying calm amid a major pressure cooker.
“Pretty much when I was on the run of birdies I wasn't too nervous. But I think coming down the stretch a little bit more, just with more people maybe, just a little bit more pressure," she said. "Yeah, I'm pretty calm. My personality is pretty calm anyway. I don't think I get too high or too low. I think that's a strength of mine.”
Harigae reinforced that “self-awareness” will be critical for her to keep up with Lee on Sunday.
“I just realized if I wanted to get to the next level, I really have to get a hold of myself emotionally,” she said.
Lee relayed her Sunday game plan. “I’m just going to try and make as many birdies as I can to give myself as many opportunities as I can on the greens. Play safe when I need to and just take one shot at a time really,” said Lee, who also received a text from fellow Aussie Karrie Webb, who won back-to-back U.S. Women’s Opens in 2000 and 2001, the latter of which came at Pine Needles.
“She said, 'Keep it going,'” said Lee. “'Let's go Aussie!'”