US Open; Back nine disaster costs Minjee Lee the title

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Minjee Lee squandered her chance to become only the fourth Australian woman to win three major championships when she lost a three-stroke lead on the back nine in a disaster that cost her her second US Open appearance and the highest prize money in the tournament’s history.

The world number 9 had started the day with a birdie and despite two bogeys after eight holes was still three shots ahead of her rivals, who stumbled at the Lancaster County Club in Pennsylvania. The “Beast” lived up to her nickname among most players.

But from there, things went horribly wrong for the 2022 champion: She dropped four shots in three holes, including a three-putt bogey on the 10th, drawing level with Japan’s Yuka Saso, who then took the lead on the 13th hole and secured her second US Open with a three-shot win, making her one of only two players to finish under par.

At the same time, Saso took the lead while Lee went into the water on his tee shot on the par-3 12th hole, the hole where world number one Nelly Korda shot a 10 in the opening round.

The Australian left the course with a double bogey and, with only six holes left to play, was three strokes behind Saso and was falling further and further behind.

Lee made another double bogey on the 14th hole, followed by a bogey on the 15th, dropping him from the top of the leaderboard into the top 10.

Her nightmare ended with an eight-over-par 78, seven strokes behind Saso, who took home the $3.6 million first prize. Lee finished tied for ninth, her final round 12 strokes worse than her third round 66.

The 27-year-old Australian wanted to overtake two-time major winner Greg Norman and become the only Australian, alongside Karrie Webb (seven), Jan Stephenson (three) and Peter Thomson (five), to win more than two golf majors.

Before the final round, Lee, who comfortably took her first US Open victory in 2022, said she would “definitely accept” the pressure that comes with leading until the final day.

However, this has been a rare position for the 27-year-old so far this season, as her best result in her eight competitions up to 2024 was fourth place.

Lee had also missed two consecutive cuts, three times in six events so far in 2024. She had fallen out of the top 10 and, after struggling for most of the year, had failed to reach her best form when it mattered.

She needed the round her good friend and fifth-ranked world player Hannah Green played in the final round. Green, who was 14 shots behind Lee at the start of the day, finished with a 66 (four under par), her best round of the entire week, and tied for 16th place.

“I learned Mel Reid’s line ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ It definitely feels that way,” she said.

“Today was beautiful because I obviously had a good round, but it felt like it was very different in the first round today. It’s very easy to make bogeys and there are definitely a lot of birdie opportunities, but you still have to give yourself those chances.”

Sarah Kemp was the next best Australian, finishing in a shared 29th place, while Gabi Ruffels finished in a shared 51st place.

Both Lee and Green will represent Australia at the Olympic Games in Paris.

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