CLIFTON, N.J. (AP) — The way LPGA scoring leader Minjee Lee has been playing, winning was only a matter of time.
The title came in the Cognizant Founders Cup on Sunday after a final round in which the Australian wasn’t playing her best.
Lee made her only three birdies on the back nine and held off Lexi Thompson by two shots to win her seventh career title and first since taking her first major at last year’s Evian Championship.
“I just feel like I’ve kind of been trending,” said Lee, who also has a tie for second and a tie for third among her seven starts this year. “I’ve been hitting it really, really well this whole — I mean, this whole season, and I just felt like it was kind of around the corner. I kept knocking on the door, and here I am now.”
Lee took the lead for good with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 14th hole at Upper Montclair Country Club. She closed with a 2-under 70, her only round not in the 60s, for a 72-hole total of 19-under 269 in the event that honors the 13 founding members of the LPGA Tour.
She steadied herself after what she called a “good” bogey on the par-3 eighth. Her ball landed on the sod wall of the bunker and she put her second shot in the sand playing from an awkward stance, but got up and down from there.
“I was actually quite calm the whole day,” Lee said. “My emotion was actually quite just very, very level, so it was just nice just to win. I think that’s why I celebrated.”
Looking for her first LPGA Tour win since 2019, Thompson rallied from three down and grabbed a share of the lead with a birdie at No. 10. Thompson and Lee traded birdies on the par-5 12th, but Thompson closed with six straight pars for a 69. Thompson had birdie opportunities on the final two holes that she failed to convert before Lee closed it in style with a short birdie of her own.
It was Thompson’s second runner-up in six events this year.
“I’m putting in five to six hours out on the golf course, and just to see it pay off means the world to me,” Thompson said. “I’m going to continue to work my butt off and hopefully see the results.”
Madelene Sagstrom of Sweden and hard-charging Angel Yin tied for third, three shots off the pace at 16 under. Sagstrom, who was a shot behind Lee at the start, closed with a 72 despite a quadruple bogey at the par-3 third hole when she needed three shots to escape what she called a “super plugged” lie in a bunker.
“I was even debating on taking a drop in the bunker, but hit it,” Sagstrom said. Her next shot had a lie nearly as bad, leading to what she summed up as a “beautiful 7.”
Yin, who thought about leaving the tour earlier this year because she was playing so poorly, shot 67. She grabbed a piece of the lead with her seventh birdie at No. 14, but bogeyed the 16th.
“I’m proud of myself, honestly,” the 23-year-old American said. “I have stayed pretty steady the whole entire week.”
Carolota Ciganda shot 64 on Sunday and finished fifth. Nasa Hataoka of Japan and Megan Khang were tied for sixth at 14 under.
Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand made the biggest move, matching the tournament low with a 63 to finish tied for eighth at 13 under with Hye-Jin Choi of South Korea.
Two-time defending champion and top-ranked Jin Young Ko finished at 8 under.
Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion Anna Davis finished at 3 under while playing her second straight tour event on a sponsor exemption.
This marked the third straight time the Founders Cup was played at a different course. It was held at Wildfire Golf Club in Arizona in 2019, at Mountain Ridge in West Caldwell, New Jersey, last year and now Upper Montclair, which will be the site for the next two years. The event was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic.
The start of the final round was delayed by an hour because of fog.