Lee watches her tee shot at the 3rd hole today – photo Darren Carroll USGA

A stretch of five birdies in seven holes in the middle of her third round at the US Women’s Open has played a key role in establishing a three shot 54 hole lead for Perth’s Minjee Lee at the Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in North Carolina.

Lee’s 54 hole total is the lowest in the history of the US Women’s Open.

Lee began the round in a share of the lead with American Mina Harigae but a three putt bogey at the 5th by the West Australian and a birdie from 5 feet by Harigae had Lee two behind.

Then came the run of birdies for Lee which began at the 6th from 8 feet and was followed by more at the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th and when Hariage bogeyed the 11th and 12th Lee was four ahead.

Harigae closed the gap with a brilliant tee shot at the 16th to two feet and the gap of three at that point was maintained until the completion of the round.

So Lee is three ahead of Harigae who has yet to win even an LPGA Tour event let alone a major and the gap to the third placed Bronte Law is another three shots so if Lee is able to play a round close to par or better tomorrow it may well be a bridge too far for her chasers.

“I had a pretty solid day,” said Lee perhaps stating the obvious. “Started a little bit slow. Made one bogey on the front and then went on a string of birdies. That was nice heading into the back nine.

“I’m just going to stick to what I know (tomorrow). I’ve been on — been to plenty of U.S. Opens and been in pressure situations like this before. Just take away my experience from the other events and the other Opens and try and get it done tomorrow.”

Lee’s precise and clinical golf especially through the middle of her round was particularly impressive

“I just had good numbers, and having shorter irons in, I think it was easier to calculate the bounce.

“I hit some really good shots in and hit some really good putts, too.”

Lee was asked about what appeared to be a very calm demeanor on the golf course today to which she responded;

“Pretty much when I was on the run of birdies I wasn’t too nervous. But I think coming down the stretch a little bit more, just with more people maybe, just a little bit more pressure.

“Yeah, I’m pretty calm. My personality is pretty calm anyway. I don’t think I get too high or too low. I think that’s a strength of mine.”

Harigae is Lee’s closest rival through 54 holes and she has done remarkably well for one so inexperienced in this situation.

“I was a little nervous in the beginning, but I was able to hit some good shots,” said Harigae. “My middle was pretty good. Then got a little — hit a little squirrelly shots, but then I made a good birdie on 16.

“I think overall I’m just happy with the way I was able to hang in there.”

When asked what she has learned about herself to date this week Harigae responded; “That I’m able to really embrace the moment. I can control my emotions a lot better, especially when there’s high tension, when things don’t go my way. But yeah, I’m just really happy with the way I’m handling it.”

Lydia Ko – not without her chance tomorrow – photo Darren Carroll USGA

New Zealand’s Lydia Ko made a good move on Saturday, her round of 66 moving her into a share of 4th place and now seven shots from the lead.

I hit a lot of greens,” said Ko. “Some of the greens I hit, it was quite a ways far from the pin, but still, you take any green in regulations. I think I stayed pretty patient out there, and I think that’s what I did pretty well these last few days.

“You know that even though it’s the same as any other 72-hole event, this week just feels a little longer, a little tougher. I just try to stay patient, try to have a good time out there, and to be able to play some good golf with that is definitely a bonus.”

As to her chances tomorrow, asked when she finished her round some time earlier than that of the last group, Ko would say.

“You just never know, right? There has been some lower scores at this course. I don’t know, like I said, how it’s going to be set up, what the weather is forecasted to be tomorrow. It’s the U.S. Women’s Open; there’s always that little bit of adrenaline and little bit of nerves that maybe necessarily don’t come at any other event.

“I’m just going to focus on my game, just enjoy it. It’s such a great golf course, and it’s a fun course where I think you can be aggressive, but at the same time when you are — there are some penalizing bits, as well. You just have to play really smart.

“I think this has been one of the most fun venues of the U.S. Women’s Open that I’ve played, so hopefully I’d better finish off my week well and see where that puts me at the end of tomorrow.”

Hannah Green is at even par and in 20th place and Grace Kim 60th.

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