By THE NATION
The 23-year-old Australian went bogey-free on Thursday to hold a one-stroke lead over last week’s winner Danielle Kang, Rolex Rankings No. 1 Jin Young Ko, 2019 LPGA Rookie of the Year Jeongeun Lee6 and second-year KLPGA player Seung Yeon Lee.
Starting on the back nine, Minjee Lee birdied three of her opening nine holes to quickly find her groove. She added three more birdies over her closing nine, including a birdie at No. 9 to grab the solo lead.
“At the very start of the round, (the rain) was probably not so bad. It wasn't heavy rain. It was almost drizzle. So the course wasn't playing too difficult at that point,” said Lee, who won the HUGEL-AIR PREMIA LA Open in April for her fifth LPGA win. “I tried to take advantage on the first few holes that we had with no rain, so I think I had a really great start to start my day. Yeah, I think that's what really got me going today.”
Kang continued her hot play, carding her second consecutive bogey-free round, joining the final round of her victory at last week’s Buick LPGA Shanghai.
“I stayed really patient today. I knew there were a lot of birdie opportunities but a lot of mistakes that could happen,” said Kang, whose last bogey came on the second hole of her third round in Shanghai. “I didn't attack a lot of pins – not like me – but I just tried to hit the fairways, the greens, and try to keep dry.”
Ko and Lee6 also went bogey-free on Thursday while Seung Yeon Lee, playing in just her second LPGA Tour event, made one bogey to go with four birdies and an eagle at No. 18. Seven players are tied for sixth at -4, including former Rolex Rankings No. 1 Shanshan Feng.
KO NOT FOCUSED ON PLAYER OF THE YEAR RACE
Rolex Rankings No. 1 Jin Young Ko can clinch the 2019 Rolex Player of the Year title by finishing sixth or better at this week’s BMW Ladies Championship. She can also earn the award if No. 2 Jeongeun Lee6 does not win the tournament. To remain alive, Lee6 must win and have Ko finish seventh or worse. After 18 holes, Ko and Lee are tied for second at -5.
As to be expected, Ko is not concerned with that race this week. Instead, the Korean star is focused on what she’ll need to do to reach the winner’s circle at LPGA International Busan.
“I have 54 holes more to play, and of course if I were to receive that award through this event, it would be lovely,” said Ko. “But I do not want to become a player that looks too far ahead and cannot focus on the game at hand. I really want to play well. I think the process is important. I think that all these accolades, they come along your way when you are in the process of perfecting on your game. I think if I work on my game and I perfect my game, I will receive the awards. What I really want to do is focus on what I can do now instead of looking too far ahead into the future.”
KANG ENJOYING A BRAND-NEW WEEK
It would be easy to assume that Danielle Kang is reveling in her victory at last week’s Buick LPGA Shanghai, a win that came on her 27th birthday. But following her first-round 67 at the BMW Ladies Championship, the Las Vegas resident, who spent several years living in Busan as a child, put that thought to rest. She has left that victory behind her and instead focused solely on the week ahead.
“I did a restart this week,” said Kang, who won in Shanghai for the second year in a row. “My brother Alex told me to pretend that it's a new week and last week never happened. So get ready to play again and that's what we're doing.”
Kang is aiming to become the first player to win LPGA titles in consecutive weeks since 2017, when Shanshan Feng won the TOTO Japan Classic and the Blue Bay LPGA.
IN ADVERSE CONDITIONS, FENG FINDS FOCUS
The weather was a major storyline during the opening round of the inaugural BMW Ladies Championship. Rain and wind would give way to peeks of sunshine, just for the inclement conditions to creek back over LPGA International Busan. But not every player struggled with the up-and-down weather. In fact, for former Rolex Rankings No. 1 Shanshan Feng, the conditions actually helped focus her game.
“Somehow, you know, when I play in the wind, I'm actually more focused and more patient,” said Feng, who shot a 68 on Thursday and is tied for sixth. “Especially we knew that it was going to rain today, so we prepared. We brought our rain gear, umbrella, and extra towels to try to keep ourselves dry. So I think overall, I did a pretty good job.”
Rolex Rankings No. 8 Minjee Lee (66)
Rolex Rankings No. 11 Danielle Kang (67)
Rolex Rankings No. 1 Jin Young Ko (67)
Rolex Rankings No. 4 Jeongeun Lee6 (67)
Rolex Rankings No. 114 Seung Yeon Lee (67)
No. 11, par 5