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Top ranking within Minjee Lee’s grasp

Australia's Minjee Lee is one of the leading players in the running for the player-of-the-year gong.

Australia's Minjee Lee is one of the leading players in the running for the player-of-the-year gong. Photo: AP

The world No.1 ranking is within sight but apparently not on Minjee Lee’s mind as a gripping LPGA Tour season heads towards a thrilling climax.

Lee enters this week’s BMW Championship in Korea leading the race for player-of-the-year honours after adding a second major championship to her collection and going within a whisker of claiming a third.

While 18 players could mathematically take the gong, Australia’s US Open champion is realistically in a four-way battle for the prestigious award.

Only 29 points separate Lee, Canadian Brooke Henderson, Thai teenage whiz Atthaya Thitikul and New Zealand’s resurgent former world No.1 Lydia Ko – with 30 points on offer to the winner of each of the season’s last three tournaments.

“It would be such a great honour to be player of the year, but I know that there’s a few behind me that are pretty close,” Lee said on Wednesday.

“So I think I’ve got to play really well the next few events that I’m playing in and see what happens at the end of the season.

“Regardless of who I’m playing against, the biggest thing is if I’m playing 100 per cent and winning. I’m just playing against myself at the end of the day on the golf course.”

That same single-minded steely focus has helped Lee to six top-four finishes in 2022, two victories and a memorable triumph at Pine Needles in June.

“Having won the US Open this year, it was one of my dreams since I was a little girl,” said the 26-year-old Perth ace who this week was also named among the top 100 most marketable athletes in world sport.

Also runner-up at the Women’s US PGA Championship, world No.3 Lee – along with world No.2 Thitikul – can potentially seize the top ranking from Jin Young Ko with victory on Sunday.

On the comeback from a wrist injury, Ko is playing her first tournament since August after missing consecutive cuts for the first time.

“I would be lying if I said that there was absolutely no pressure when it comes to maintaining that ranking,” Korea’s defending champion said.

“But I’m surrounded by very talented players, though, and I never thought initially that ranking, that title was forever.

“As for my wrist, actually I’m a little bit uncomfortable that the wrist continues to come up.

“It’s not fully okay but I’m not in a lot of pain. I have to say it’s not at its worst and I don’t think it’s impacting my game that much and, if I don’t do well, I don’t think I can blame it on my wrist.”

Like Lee, Thitikul is a two-time winner in 2022, and could find herself in rarified air on the LPGA Tour by winning both the player-of-the-year and rookie-of-the-year gongs in the same season.

The 2021 LET player of the year is already the youngest woman in history to win a professional tournament on a major tour.

“I had a really good season so far,” said the 19-year-old sensation.

“I’m not really thinking about all the awards that much.”

-AAP

Topics: Minjee Lee
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