Lee rides blade to the top

Minjee Lee

 

Many hackers rate superior ball-striking a higher priority than putting.

Minjee Lee and the world’s best pros: not so much.

World No.20 Lee seized control of the Oates Vic Open at 13th Beach today, despite, in her own words, hitting the ball “not even close” to how she struck it in Thursday afternoon’s opening round.

But a putting-inspired six-under-par 67 around the Beach Course this morning proved the flat stick was far more important than her irons as she split the field apart in reaching nine under at the halfway point.

Lee, the 2014 champion as an amateur, is a three-shot leader over four women – 2015 winner Marianne Skarpnord (69 Beach Course), one-time prodigy Carolina Hedwall (69 Beach), her fellow Swede Jenny Haglund (69 Beach) and outstanding Taiwanese prospect Heather Lin (68, Creek).

Remarkably, West Australian Lee is yet to endure a bogey in 36 holes and will take some running down given her fondness for the venue.

 

 

“I love coming back here. I had two good rounds under my belt so hopefully I can have another good two rounds this weekend,” Lee said.

“I missed a fair few putts late yesterday, so it was nice to get a couple today.

“I did miss a couple more greens today, so I made a few more up and downs today than yesterday … which was important because … if you make a bogey then sort of stops the momentum.”

Skarpnord, the ever-popular Geelong-based Norwegian, gave ample supporting evidence to the Lee theory with her putter powering a second-round 69 to reach six under.

She, too, didn’t flush her approach shots, but made a lot of key putts to keep her scything through the field.

“I’m happy with the score but it wasn’t pretty,” Skarpnord said.

“I took the chances I had and I saved some really good pars. My putting saved me today a few times.  If I didn't putt well today I probably would have been over par.”

Ominously for the field, she praised playing partner Lee’s game.

“Minjee played well. She holed putts from everywhere, so my thought was just trying not to fall too far behind and keeping going at her pace, which was hard.

“But I did a fairly good job considering I didn't hit the ball that well.”

The surprise packet is Lin, just 17 and in Australia with her Swinging Skirts teammates as they undergo intensive training with Golf Australia coaches in local conditions.

Lin was second amateur behind now world No.11 Hye-jin Choi at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open last year and continued her good Aussie form with a stunning five-under round in high winds to make her move in her third time at the Vic Open.

“My first time here I was really nervous, because it’s a links course and we don’t have any in my country, so it was really tough for me,” Lin said.

“I didn’t do well the last two years, but I’ve thought about it and worked on it and my strategy has improved a lot.

“Playing on this course has improved my strategy.”

Another to surge forward today was China’s Xi Yu Lin (69) who enjoyed four birdies without a bogey with former Australian champion Mardi Lunn on the bag to reach five under and outright sixth.

“I've been working with a new coach back in Orlando in the (northern) winter, so I’m working hard on my game and happy to see everything is going well,” Xi said.

Adelaide’s Steph Na carded a fine 71 to reach three under and be ranked second-best Aussie at three under and a share of seventh alongside 2016 champ Georgia Hall (73).

Perth’s Hannah Green didn’t so much roar into contention as slide quietly.

But after spending 40 hours in the same clothes and a practice day without clubs after the long trip from the LPGA Tour’s Bahamas event left her in Melbourne without her luggage on Wednesday, Green’s 71 came as a relief as she climbed to two under and a share of ninth.

“I had to borrow some clothes off my `host mum’ and had a few hits with Bec Artis’ sticks … but it wasn’t the ideal preparation … so I’m happy with where I am,” Green said.

“But these feel like my practice rounds, hopefully the next two days I’ll get a bit more consistent.

“Last week (with a T11 finish in the Bahamas on debut as an LPGA Tour player) I was rusty, but I was able to get away with it a little bit more, but around the greens here is a lot trickier.

“It’s pretty tough if you miss it in the wrong positions here though.”

Other Aussies to make the five over cut were Artis, Soo Jin Lee and Whitney Hillier (T15 at -1), Karis Davidson (T24 at E), Amy Walsh, Becky Kay and Sarah Kemp (+1), Su Oh and Sarah Gorton (+2), Tahnia Ravnjak (+3), Cassie Porter and Montana Strauss (+4), Kono Matsumoto, Vicky Uwland and Wanasa Zhou (+5).

Overnight leader Beth Allen battled in the afternoon winds and fired a 78 to fall to -1, while Cheyenne Woods, second overnight, had a nightmare front nine with seven bogeys en route to an 80 that left her at two over, one behind defending champ Mel Reid (73).

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