Minjee Lee shares lead in opening major


Australia’s Minjee Lee has lived up to her pre-tournament billing by sharing the lead after her opening round of the year’s first women’s golf major in California.

Lee and American Jennifer Kupcho posted six-under-par 66s in benign morning conditions at The Chevron Championship at Mission Hills to lead by one shot from defending champion Patty Tavatanakit of Thailand, who battled afternoon winds.

Australian rookie Gabriela Ruffels was just a shot further back after a six-birdie 68 in the afternoon to be tied for fourth with some big names including former No.1 Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson, Anna Nordqvist and in-form English star Georgia Hall.

Fellow Australian Hannah Green was also well-placed after a steady two-under 70.

Up to fourth in the world rankings following a hot start to 2022, Lee was among the favourites at a course very much to the pure ball striker’s liking and she duly delivered with six birdies in a bogey-free round.

The 25-year-old birdied all four par 5s in the sunny and calm conditions to earn herself a jump on the field.

“It was perfect,” Lee said. “Not like a breath of wind when we played. Maybe just a tiny bit, but conditions are great. Putting greens are rolling real nice. I don’t think you can get better than that.”

Lee won the Evian Championship last summer for her first major title and sixth LPGA Tour victory.

“I know I have one under my belt, but I do want a little bit more,” she said.

“I just think I have a little bit more belief in myself and my game so I can be a little bit more comfortable just hitting the shots that I choose.”

Kupcho birdied holes 11 through to 14 to get to eight under, then bogeyed the next two holes. She birdied four of the first five holes and finished with nine birdies and three bogeys.

Winless on the LPGA Tour, the 24-year-old from Colorado won the 2018 NCAA individual title for Wake Forest and took the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur the following year.

She arrived at Mission Hills early after missing the cut last week at Aviara in Carlsbad.

“I really like the layout of this golf course, the beautiful shape that it’s in every year,” Kupcho said.

“It always is so fun to be here, so just taking advantage of how much I like the course and the atmosphere.”

Tavatanakit was delighted with her performance in a seven-birdie round after finishing late in the afternoon in gusting wind.

“Really proud,” Tavatanakit said. “I feel like I really got my momentum going, was really present today.”

Unable to find a sponsor willing to remain at Mission Hills, the tournament that started in 1972 as the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle and became a major in 1983 is shifting to Houston next year under a deal with Chevron.

“Definitely sad,” Carolina Masson said after a 68. “I understand why we’re doing it, but I’m just trying to soak in every second being out here. The golf course is playing as good as ever.”