Minjee Lee poised to retain LPGA Tour crown in Jersey
Defending champion Minjee Lee has rediscovered her mojo to seize a three-shot third-round lead at the LPGA Tour's Cognizant Founders Cup in New Jersey.
The world No.6 vaulted to the top with a five-under-par 67 as fellow Australian Sarah Kemp crashed after enjoying a share of the halfway lead.
Relishing the tight fairways and firm greens at Upper Montclair Country Club, Lee reeled off four birdies and an eagle to soar to 12 under on Saturday.
Her nearest pursuers are American Angel Lin (68) and South Korean Ran Ryu (70) at nine under.
South Africa's reigning Australian and British Open champion Ashleigh Buhai (68), India's Aditi Ashok (71) andworld No.3 Jin Young Ko (72) are one stroke further back in a tie for fourth.
Australian rookie Grace Kim, a winner of her maiden LPGA Tour event in Hawaii last month, is continuing her great run to be joint seventh at seven under with American Cheyenne Knight (71) following a third-round 68.
Kemp slipped back to a share of 13th at five under after backing up her second-round 65 with a disappointing three-over 75.
Fellow Australian Steph Kyriacou (73) is equal 19th at four under.
Lee hadn't managed a top-30 finish in her previous seven LPGA Tour starts before finding something last week at the International Crown teams event in San Francisco.
Lee and Kemp teamed with Kyriacou and Hannah Green to power Australia to the final there before losing to Thailand, and carried the momentum across the country.
"I was pretty solid all day," Lee said of her third consecutive round in the 60s.
"I made a lot of birdies on the front and one eagle on the back and just made pars coming in so I feel like I had a pretty good day."
Lee's Founders Cup victory last year kick-started a career season in which she added a second major at the US Open, won the Annika Award as women's golf's major player of the year and challenged for the world's top ranking.
She's been slow to get going in 2023, struggling to put four good rounds together, but is on the precipice of another important win ahead of her US Open defence at Pebble Beach in three weeks.
The 26-year-old has never converted a third-round lead into victory on the LPGA Tour.
"It just depends where the pins are. I'm just going to go step by step and then just assess it while I'm on the golf course," Lee said of her final-round approach.
"It depends on the wind and the condition of the course but I'll be aggressive when I can and be a lot more smarter when I have to be."
Apart from loving the tree-lined layout, the West Australian said being defending champion hadn't affected her this week.
"It hasn't really been too different," Lee said. "I still have to put up a score and hit the same golf shots."