Australian star and world No. 4 Minjee Lee will carry a three-stroke lead into the final round of the 77th U.S. Women’s Open Presented by ProMedica following a brilliant 4-under 67 on Saturday. Lee took control of the championship when she rattled off four straight birdies on holes 9-12, and will now look to become the third-ever U.S. Women’s Open winner from Australia, joining Jan Stephenson and Karrie Webb.
These are 10 Stats to Know to know from an exciting Saturday at Pine Needles:
1. Minjee Lee’s 54-hole performance hasn’t just been breathtaking, it’s been record-breaking. Her 54-hole total score of 200 is the best in the history of the U.S. Women’s Open, bettering Juli Inkster’s 1999 sum of 201 by a single shot. Lee is the first Aussie to lead through 54 holes at this championship since Webb held a five-stroke advantage here at Pine Needles back in 2001. Webb would go on to win that Sunday by eight strokes. In fact, in each of the previous three Opens held here, a player led outright entering the final round – and each went on to convert the victory.
There have been eight previous instances since 2000 where a player led the U.S. Women’s Open by three strokes or more through 54 holes. Six of them would go on to win. This is the first time in Lee’s career she has held the 54-hole lead or co-lead in any major championship.
2. Lee entered the week leading the LPGA this season in virtually every approach play statistic. While she’s been her usual, excellent self with her irons (14 or more greens in regulation in each round this week), her putting has been even more brilliant. Through three rounds, Lee is ranked second in the field in strokes-gained putting – a statistic she entered the week ranked 144th in this season on tour. Lee also leads the field in putts per green in regulation (1.63), and has made 10-of-21 attempts from 10-to-20 feet away (5th-best percentage in the field).
3. Lee can chase down some U.S. Women’s Open scoring records on Sunday in addition to winning the championship. An even-par round of 71 would give her a 72-hole total of 271, the lowest in the history of the championship. Pine Needles would be a fitting venue for that achievement: the last time the U.S. Women’s Open scoring record was broken (not tied, but bettered) was at this same venue, back in 1996 by Annika Sorenstam.
The best 72-hole score to par in championship history is 16 under, by Inkster in 1999. No player has ever touched 17 under at any point in U.S. Women’s Open history – something Lee could also accomplish on Sunday.
4. Mina Harigae continued her strong play on Saturday, carding a 1-under-par 70 to get into Sunday’s final pairing with Lee. This is the best 54-hole position of Harigae’s major championship career, and the first time she’s even been in the top 10 entering the final round all season on the LPGA Tour.
In virtually any other U.S. Women’s Open, Harigae’s opening 54-hole score would have her alone in first place: since 2000, she and Lee are two of just four players to be double digits under par entering the final round. Harigae is the first player to be 10 under or lower through three rounds at the U.S. Women’s Open – and not be leading – since Kelli Kuehne and Lorie Kane (each 11 under) in 1999.
5. Ingrid Lindblad keeps one-upping herself, day-by-day this week at Pine Needles. In Round 1, she shot the lowest round (65) by an amateur in U.S. Women’s Open history – while playing alongside legend Annika Sorenstam. Friday, she set the record for lowest 36-hole total by an amateur. Saturday, paired with world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, she shot 71, giving her the lowest 54-hole total by an amateur in U.S. Women’s Open history.
Lindblad might as well set the 72-hole record, too, right? That mark is 279, shot by Hyejin Choi five years ago. Another even-par 71 on Sunday, and that record will be hers, as well.
6. Individual players aren’t setting the only records this week – the entire field has taken advantage of good scoring conditions through three rounds in North Carolina. The field has racked up a whopping 52 scores in the 60s, the most through three rounds in a U.S. Women’s Open over the last 30 years. There are 19 players under par this week. In the three previous U.S. Women’s Opens combined, there were just nine players under par entering the final round.
7. Besides Lee, only one player in the field can claim three rounds in the 60s this week. That player is Bronte Law, a 27-year-old Englishwoman who ranked second in the field Saturday in strokes-gained approach (+3.26). Law is looking for her best-ever finish in a major championship, her current top result being a tie for 18th at the 2018 KPMG Women’s PGA. Alone in third place, this is the best 54-hole position by an English player in this championship since Jodi Ewart Shadoff nine years ago.
8. Lydia Ko had the round of the day on Saturday, tying her lowest career U.S. Women’s Open score with a sparkling, six-birdie 66. This is the eighth time Ko has shot 66 or lower in a major championship since the beginning of 2015. In that stretch, only Sei Young Kim, with nine such rounds, has done it more often. Minjee Lee and Inbee Park have also done it eight times in that span.
Ko is part of a group of six chasers in a tie for fourth place, seven shots behind Lee. While no player has come from more than five back in the final round to win this championship, one doesn’t have to look far to find the last time someone came from seven down to win a major. That would be none other than our leader Minjee Lee, who did it at last year’s Amundi Evian Championship.
9. While Lee looks to be in control, this championship has a recent penchant to yield a final-round comeback. Only one of the last seven U.S. Women’s Open champions has held the 54-hole lead or co-lead – Ariya Jutanugarn in 2018 – and she needed a playoff to beat the charging Hyo-Joo Kim. In that same seven-year span, there have been five players to come from multiple shots off the lead to win.
That’s a pretty stark contrast from what this championship saw historically from 54-hole leaders. From 1947 through 2014, more than 69 percent of champions held the 54-hole lead or co-lead.
10. Sunday nerves: since 2012, there have been 12 different players to either lead outright or share the lead at this championship through 54 holes. None of those players recorded a final round in the 60s, with the group combining for a scoring average of 73.7. Since 2000, there have been more 54-hole leaders to record final-round scores of 78 or higher (four) than rounds in the 60s (three).
So while Lee is firmly in the driver’s seat, her Sunday road ahead is anything but guaranteed.
Justin Ray is the head of content for Twenty First Group. He has also worked as a senior researcher at ESPN and Golf Channel.