By STEVE REED – AP Sportswriter
SOUTHERN PINES, NC (AP) — The impressive Aussie wouldn’t be turned down.
Minjee Lee won the US Women’s Open by four strokes over Mina Harigae at Pine Needles on Sunday to win $1.8 million, the biggest payout in women’s golf history.
Lee closed with an even par of 71 to finish at 13 under 271 after the Australian flirted with the tournament record of 16 under set by Juli Inkster in 1999 at Old Waverly.
“I mean, I’m speechless,” Lee said. “I can’t believe it right now. No, it’s just super, super special and just a big honor. It’s been my dream since I was little. This is the one I always wanted to win on; now I did, and it’s just amazing.
Lee’s earnings came from a record $10 million purse.
“We’re just moving in the right direction,” Lee said. “I think it’s going to get better and better from here. It’s such a big sum, and I’m really honored to be the first winner I guess of that sum. We will only get better and better. »
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Harigae shot a 72 for his best finish in a major and a check for just over $1 million.
Although she knew she had no chance of winning in the aftermath, Harigae said it was still stressful knowing that a million dollars – a bigger check than the winner does in most LPGA Tour events – was at stake.
“I’m not going to lie, I had a stomach ache in the last two holes of the stretch,” Harigae said. “I was really stressed, but really focused on one stroke at a time, making solid contact and hitting just good putts.”
South Korean Hye-Jin Choi was one of only two players to break par on Sunday, scoring 70 to finish third at 7 under.
World number 1 South Korean Jin Young Ko finished fourth at 6 under, seven shots off the lead after a 71. Lydia Ko was 5 under after a 72.
Ingrid Lindblad, the Swedish LSU player, was the 1-under little amateur, tied for 11th after a 76.
Lee, 26, has never been challenged on a much tougher course than the previous three days. She opened with rounds of 67, 66 and 67.
Lee became the sixth consecutive international player to win the US Women’s Open and the first Australian since her mentor Karrie Webb in 2001. It was her second victory at a major championship after winning the Evian Championship last July. His previous best finish at the US Open was a tie for 11th in 2017.
Lee, who entered the week ranked No. 4 in the world, won eight events on the LPGA Tour and became the first repeat winner this year after winning the Founders Cup three weeks ago in New Jersey.
Lee entered the final round with a three-shot lead over Harigae and said after the third round her goal was to continue to stay aggressive and birdie.
She was up to it early on, birdieing the first two holes to move to 15 under and take a five-shot lead over Harigae.
She stumbled a bit with bogeys on numbers 5 and 7, but still managed to make the turn at par 35 and with a cushion four-stroke when Harigae also bogeyed the seventh. The lead increased to five after Harigae bogeyed the par-4 11th hole, virtually sealing the victory.
Lee then struck in a bending nine-foot birdie putt on the No. 12 to push the lead to six, prompting him to thrust his arm in celebration. She appeared to be looking at Inkster’s record when she came in at 15 under after a birdie on the par-5 15th hole, but closed with two bogeys.
Harigae did not birdie his first until the 15th hole.
Lee said she’s never been so nervous on a golf course – even though she’s never led by less than three strokes.
“Even with a three shot lead, I never felt comfortable today,” Lee said. “I felt that I still needed to play well. I still needed to hold on. That’s pretty much what I did. To start aggressively, I think it was the right move, and then after that I had a pretty big lead, so I was able to play my game just to finish.
Nelly Korda finished with a 73 on Sunday to place eighth at 2 under in her first tournament since undergoing surgery to repair a blood clot in her left arm.
“The first week you have rust, don’t you, so you don’t expect much from your game,” said Korda, the world No. 2 player. “You don’t know where your game is. Knowing that I can play on a very difficult golf course in a major tournament and even be in the running is definitely a positive.
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