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Minjee Lee started the day seven shots back at the Amundi Evian Championship and ended it with a record-tying victory, joining idol Karrie Webb and Patty Sheehan with the largest come-from-behind triumphs in LPGA major championship history.
Lee, 25, becomes the ninth consecutive first-time major winner on the LPGA and the 14th in the last 15 majors. Long considered one of the best LPGA players without a major, Lee finally shed that distinction with her sixth LPGA title. She joins Hannah Green, Jan Stephenson and Webb as Australian major champs.
“I never really like thought about it when I was playing,” said Lee of the starting deficit. “I just tried to make as many birdies as I could.
“I think I saw the leaderboard maybe once or twice … it’s just really amazing.”
— The Amundi Evian Championship (@EvianChamp) July 25, 2021
Jeongeun Lee6 entered the final round with a five-stroke lead, thanks in part to a major championship record-tying 61 on Friday. That lead was erased entirely before Lee6 made the turn, however, and Lee made her way up the board with birdies on four of her last five holes.
While American rookie Yealimi Noh was at or near the top of the board throughout the final round, Lee6 showed plenty of moxie by battling back from an opening 39 with a string of closing birdies. With Lee in the clubhouse at 18 under after a closing 64, Lee6 and Noh came to the reachable par-5 18th needing birdie to force a playoff or eagle to win outright.
After Noh’s drive settled down into the right rough she laid up, hoping to make birdie the old-fashioned way. While Noh’s birdie bid painfully slid by right, Lee two-putted for birdie from 15 feet to match Lee, who was chilling with friends while eating a nectarine by the practice putting green.
“Even if it was in the rough, just playing like a normal lie, I 100 percent would’ve gone for it,” said Noh, “but it was sitting down, and even after I hit my like punch-out it was like in a little divot sitting down.
“So could make birdie either way, but didn’t happen.”
Lee and Lee6, the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open winner who looked to join Se Ri Pak and In Gee Chun as the only players to make their first two LPGA titles majors, went back to the 18th to extend the drama in overtime. After both players found the fairway. Lee struck first with a 6-iron she won’t soon forget from 190 yards that settled 8 feet from the hole.
The Perth native gave a nod to her longtime caddie, Jason Gilroyed, for talking her into the right club for that final swing.
“Actually, I said 5-iron,” said Lee, “but Gilly said 6, so thank you to Gilly. I hit 6-iron and it was really close.”
With the pressure on, Lee6 suffered a severe misfire, finding the pond that guards the 18thgreen with 5-iron. Lee wouldn’t go on to make her eagle putt, but it didn’t matter. She was, at last, a major champion.
It marked the second this this year that a player held a five-shot lead on Sunday at a major and lost the tournament. Lexi Thompson did the same earlier this year at the U.S. Women’s Open.
“I thought I could win,” said Lee6, “last hole is par 5, so definitely we have to make birdie. Second shot was terrible.”
— LPGA (@LPGA) July 25, 2021
Ireland’s Leona Maguire recorded 10 birdies on Sunday to shoot 61 and become the third player in history to hit that mark in a major. She tied for sixth. Thai teenager Atthaya Thitikul closed with a 65 to finish solo fifth.
It was Lee’s mother, a golf instructor, who introduced she and younger brother Min Woo to the game back home in Australia. Two weeks ago, Min Woo won the Scottish Open to qualify for his first major championship, the British Open at Royal St. George’s.
Lee, who collected a $675,000 paycheck, heads home to Dallas to celebrate Min Woo’s 23rd birthday on Tuesday, and both their victories, before heading to Japan for the Summer Games.
“You know, it’s so cool,” said Lee, staring at the trophy beside her. “I still can’t believe it. Yeah, the Olympics have been on the back of my mind since Rio, so I’m really excited to play and go out there and rep my country.”