Minjee Lee fired a 4-under 68 in the first round at the Saudi Ladies International, her best score in more than a year.
Now she has a chance to become only the second American to win on the Ladies European Tour in the last two years.
South Korean and American both send strong messages as Lee goes up against Ireland’s Rachel Hetherington, a two-time winner this year, when the tournament moves to Turkey next week. The course has been good to the American’s share of second place players this week.
The players are upset with the conditions on Saudi Arabia’s courses that includes heat breaks on the green, which all seems to be centered around leaders.
The Kingdom has sent two American players, Karrie Webb, and Jessica Korda, to the tournaments they have hosted. They played the course near the capital of Riyadh and finished a full dozen shots behind Lee in both events. If that pattern continues it might be time for some American players to sit out.
Lee is ranked 57th in the world. She has been in six of the last eight winner’s circles.
It wasn’t that long ago that she was on top of the world.
Lee shot a 3-under 69, pushing her further into contention at the LPGA Inspiration. She won that major, playing the final day of the tournament a massive 14 under par, to go with a second-place finish at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
She said she was striving to hit more fairways and to chip and putt better, and an under-par round wasn’t out of the question.
“It’s a great way to start a new swing after four weeks off and thinking about how many yards and greens I have to chip and putt over and want to putt really, really well,” she said.
“I had a lot of pressure coming in on Friday. I can’t imagine getting 10 shots back of the leader. But after a strong finish, I feel like I’m pretty close.”
Hetherington also had a 4-under 68, a distant 10 strokes behind Lee.