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    Monday, July 15, 2024

    Minjee Lee with 66 forges a 3-way tie in the US Women's Open

    Minjee Lee waits to putt on the 18th hole during the third round of the U.S. Women's Open at Lancaster Country Club on Saturday in Lancaster, Pa. (Matt Slocum/AP Photo)

    Lancaster, Pa. — Wichanee Meechai has a share of the lead and every reason to feel out of place at a U.S. Women's Open that is crowded at the top.

    Meechai typically is full of doubt and low on confidence, an example of the 31-year-old Thai being honest to a fault. She's not entirely sure if the rental home where she is staying alone has a ghost, but she thinks they can get along if it does.

    And then there was that dream at 3 a.m. Saturday that she forgot to sign her scorecard.

    “I dream about the U.S. Open. I think it's in my mind, very deep in there,” Meechai said. “I don't think I can get rid of it. I'm just trying to get along with it.”

    All the while, Meechai has been playing like she's been here all along. She delivered two big pars late Saturday afternoon for a 1-under 69, giving her a share of the lead with two-time major champion Minjee Lee (66) and Stanford alum Andrea Lee (67).

    Minjee Lee took advantage of one of the forward tees by hitting 6-iron to tap-in range for eagle on the par-5 seventh hole that got her right into the mix, and she stayed there with a few other key shots along the way to match the low score of the championship.

    Andrea Lee played bogey-free on the back nine with back-to-back birdies that got her into the final group.

    Former British Open champion Hinako Shibuno had seven birdies for a 66 and was two behind. Another shot back was Yuka Saso, who saved shots with her putter and one sublime flop shot over a bunker to a tight pin on the par-3 17th. She dropped two shots late for a 69.

    Meechai was among the only five players who remained under par, all with a reasonable chance of claiming the biggest prize in women's golf at Lancaster Country Club, a course that demands everything from everyone.

    All the others have experienced big moments — major champions in Minjee Lee, Shibuno and Saso, the Solheim Cup pressure for Andrea Lee.

    But it was Meechai who put it all in perspective going into the final round.

    “It’s nothing to be afraid of,” she said. “Everyone has the same thing. Just another round of the tournament. Go with it and have fun on the course.”

    The lead was at 5-under 205.

    Nelly Korda, Rose Zhang and other big stars in women's golf were long gone from missing the cut. Left behind was a tremendous give-and-take on a tough U.S. Open course.

    Minjee Lee was four shots behind and going nowhere until her 6-iron hopped out of the rough and rode the ridge to just behind the cup for eagle on No. 7. Equally impressive was her tee shot to a scary front left pin on the notorious par-3 12th hole to 3 feet for birdie.

    “It's tough if you have super high expectations and the course is hard and difficult,” she said. “I tried to just keep it pretty calm, and I just tried to be patient out there. I feel like my game has been trending. I feel like it has been coming together for the moment I am in right now.”

    Everyone else was over par, and Lancaster Country Club isn't the track that allows for big charges. It's more hang on for dear life, particularly in a final round at a U.S. Open.

    Saturday was different, and Minjee Lee felt that might be the case. She would know what to expect having won her second major at the U.S. Women's Open two years ago at Pine Needles when she won by four shots.

    Now it's crowded at the top.

    Meechai — she goes by “Jan” when playing in America — is the most unlikely contender. Her only victory in a tournament recognized by the women's world ranking was on the Taiwan LPGA nine years ago. She is No. 158 in the world ranking.

    She looked impervious to the nerves of the biggest event in women's golf, even after her group (with Andrea Lee) was given a warning for slow play.

    Andrea Lee, who started two shots behind, opened with a 25-foot birdie putt. Meechai followed her in from just outside 20 feet. The 31-year-old Thai also drilled an iron onto the green at the seventh to set up a two-putt birdie that put her at 6 under.

    But she dropped two shots on the back nine, only to deliver a beauty with an 8-iron on the 15th, just enough right-to-left movement on her shot that it rode the slope of the green to 3 feet that put her in the lead.

    That only lasted long enough for Minjee Lee to hole an 18-foot birdie putt on the short par-4 16th, after laying back off the tee with a 5-iron. And then Andrea Lee came through on the 16th with a shot into 3 feet to join them.

    At stake is a $2.4 million payoff to the winner, by far the largest in women's golf. Lancaster has had huge galleries all week, just like in 2015, and the stage might feel even bigger.

    Saturday was still tough enough for 15-year-old Asterisk Talley, the youngest player in the field and a high school freshman playing in the third-to-last group. She shot 78 to fall out of contention, going from five shots behind to 14 shots out of the lead.

    Minjee Lee reacts after birdying the 16th hole during the third round of the U.S. Women's Open on Saturday in Lancaster, Pa. (Matt Slocum/AP Photo)
    Andrea Lee, right, walks with Wichanee Meechai after the two finished the day in a 3-way tie for first during the third round of the U.S. Women's Open. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)
    Hinako Shibuno hits out of the sand onto the 12th green during the third round of the U.S. Women's Open. (Matt Slocum/AP Photo)

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