CINCINNATI — Minjee Lee lost a five-shot lead on the back nine and recovered at just the right time, hitting wedge to 2 feet for birdie to beat Charley Hull on the second playoff hole in the Kroger LPGA Championship in Cincinnati.
Lee, a two-time major champion, won for the first time this year after closing with a 1-under 71. It was her second playoff victory on the LPGA Tour, and she never imagined it would get to that point.
The 27-year-old Australian seized control early and led Hull by five shots through 10 holes. Six holes later, they were tied.
Lee led by four on the par-5 12th, with Hull already having hit her second shot into the water. Lee decided to go for the green with a fairway metal, and she pulled it so far left that it went out-of-bounds, leading to a double bogey.
Hull dropped only one shot, cutting the deficit to three shots, and then she made three birdie putts in the 12- to 18-foot range on the 14th, 15th and 16th holes to catch Lee.
“I had a few moments where I felt I was losing, but I wasn’t,” Lee said according to AP. “I was like, `Let’s play `till the end and see where it ends up.´ I didn’t give up. I played every shot the best I could and won the playoff, so it feels nice.”
Just getting into the playoff was hard work. They were tied going to the 18th in regulation at Kenwood Country Club and both found a fairway bunker.
Lee hit pitching wedge to make sure she cleared the lip of the bunker. Hull attacked with a 9-iron and it rolled to just short of the green, allowing her to use putter.
Hull’s putt from 50 feet settled 2 feet away. Lee hit wedge to 7 feet and holed the par putt to join Hull at 16-under 272 and force a playoff.
On the 18th in the playoff, Hull caught a flyer from the rough and it bounded over the green near the grandstands. After a free drop, she used putter to go up the slope to the green, and the ball stopped one turn from dropping.
Playing the 18th again on the second overtime hole, Lee’s wedge landed well short of the green and it ran up the ridge and settled 2 feet from the hole. Hull’s 15-foot birdie putt to extend the playoff missed to the left.
“Minjee played well in the playoff,” Hull said. “At the end of the day, she was leading going into the final round and I done my best.”
No one else really had a chance on the back nine. Women’s PGA champion Ruoning Yin at least walked away with a consolation prize. She closed with a 67 to finish alone in third, and that should be enough for the 20-year-old from China to reach No. 1 in the world when the next ranking is official on Tuesday.
Yin joins Shanshan Feng as the only Chinese player to be No. 1. And to think she was just outside the top 100 going into the year.
“I got goosebumps,” said Yin, who goes by “Ronni” on the LPGA. “I think world No. 1 is the big step on the way to chasing Shanshan. I got brain blank right now. I don’t know what to say. Maybe I can’t say something until I finally see my name as world No. 1.”
Lee won for the ninth time in her career. She heads off for the LPGA Tour’s Asia swing before returning for the final domestic stretch in November.