Date: September 05, 2016
Author: Mark Hayes

Lee powerless to stop birdie fest

Minjee Lee came within a hair’s breadth of her third LPGA Tour title today, but succumbed to an extraordinary round by Caroline Masson.

Lee had front-row seats as the German peeled off nine birdies after an opening double-bogey to win her first LPGA event at the Manulife Classic in Ontario, Canada.

The pair were in the third last group on course, but a brilliant front-nine 32 by Lee soon had the West Australian in the title mix at Whistle Bear Golf Club.

But Masson was not to be denied and made five front-nine birdies of her own to negate the opening six and another bogey on the fifth.

The 27-year-old birdied four straight holes from 9-12, but looked to wobble with another bogey on 13 before what turned out to be the winning birdie on the 16th to finish 16 under.

Try as she might, Lee simply couldn’t find a birdie on the back nine and while there were no blemishes on her card, her 68 left her at -15, one adrift of Masson and tied for second with Karine Icher and Mi Hyang Lee.

Masson joined Anna Nordqvist and Brittany Lang as the only players over 23 years old to win in the first 24 events this season. She was showered in beer in celebration on the 18th green.

“I think they picked beer because I'm German. They figured I could take it,” Masson joked.

“I appreciate the girls coming out and congratulating. I prefer the beer over the water.

“I got off to a really bad start. I doubled the first hole and from then on just kind of (thought), `There's no pressure. You don't have to feel any pressure to win or do anything. Just keep making birdies’.

“And that's what I did all day.”

Lee, already with one win this year at the Lotte Championship, said she knew Masson, who closed with a 67, was up to something special.

“She was making a lot of birdies,” Lee said.

“I knew it was going to be pretty close. She played great.”

“I started off well, I was four under through the first nine, but I guess I couldn’t quite get it done.”

Ariya Jutanugarn tied for fifth in her bid to win three straight events for the second time this season after two late bogeys.

She was level on 14 under with Lydia Ko (68) and Suzann Pettersen whose final-round 66 featured eight birdies.

Only one other Aussie made the cut, with Queenslander Sarah Jane Smith continuing her rise up the world rankings with an impressive weekend of 68-68.

Smith’s total of nine under left her T26 and she hasn’t missed a cut in 13 tournaments since mid-April.