WASHINGTON: Australia's Minjee Lee opened with three consecutive birdies on her way to a seven-under par 65 and a two-stroke lead after Saturday's third round of the LPGA Queen City Championship.
The 27-year-old from Perth delivered a spectacular bogey-free round with seven birdies to stand on 15-under 201 after 54 holes at Kenwood Country Club in Cincinnati, Ohio.
"Gave me a little bit of confidence going into the rest of the round," Lee said of her early birdie run. "Having a hot start is always nice.
"When you're putting it on really well it's also helping too."
England's Charley Hull, a two-time major runner-up this year, and Taiwan's Chien Peiyun, chasing her first LPGA title, shared second at 203 with Swiss Morgane Metraux on 204 and Sweden's Madelene Sagstrom and Japan's Yuka Saso on 205.
"I'm looking forward to playing in the final pairing," Hull said. "I like being last out on a Sunday."
World number 13 Lee opened with three consecutive birdies, began the back nine with two birdies and went back-to-back again at 15 and 16 then curled in a clutch 12-foot par putt at 18.
"Having that momentum really helps, especially when you can save your par putts," Lee said.
"That's really the key for momentum out here. Making birdies is really nice but those key par putts are really important as well."
Lee seeks her ninth LPGA triumph and her first since capturing last year's US Women's Open for her second major crown, having also won the 2021 Evian Championship.
Her best finish this year was second at the Founders Cup but she has made the cut in all 14 of her starts this season.
Hull, second at the US Women's Open and Women's British Open, seeks her third LPGA title and first since last October in Dallas. She's also a three-time winner on the Ladies European Tour.
Ninth-ranked Hull overcame a triple-bogey 7 at the first hole with birdies on four of the next six.
"Weird way to start," Hull said. "I just laughed it off and birdied the next couple. I actually felt like I played pretty solid. It was quite windy and quite tricky out there."
World number 184 Chien began with a four-stroke edge but opened with a double bogey, then birdied the par-5 second and par-3 third holes to stay three ahead of Lee.
Chien stumbled with bogeys at six and the par-3 eighth and Lee grabbed a share of the lead with a birdie at the 10th, where her approach landed inches from the hole.
Lee seized the lead alone when Chien made bogey at nine, then the Aussie sank an eight-foot birdie putt at the 11th before Chien birdied the 10th to climb back within one.
Hull matched Chien for second on 12-under with birdies at 13 and the par-3 14th.
Lee birdied the par-5 15th and par-4 16th to reach 15-under, stretching her lead to three briefly before Hull birdied again at 17 and Chien birdied 16.
At 18, Lee went over the green with her approach and ran the third shot 12 feet beyond the hole before her intense closing putt.
China's second-ranked Yin Ruoning, who won the Women's PGA Championship in June, could become world number one on Sunday with a top-four finish. She fired a 73 to share eighth on 207. --AFP