CLIFTON, NJ — On Thursday afternoon, Minjee Lee started the Cognizant Founders Cup in a way that most lost golfers would try to forget: with a double bogey on her first hole, the par-4 10th.
Less than 24 hours later, midway through her second round, Lee returned to the 10th tee at Upper Montclair Country Club. After making 12 birdies in the 26 holes since, it would have been easy for her to pretend the gaffe never happened.
But the 25-year-old Australian took a different approach.
“I was like, ‘I’m not making the same mistake twice,’” Lee said. “So I made a better decision from off the tee. … And [then] I hit it close. So it was nice to make a birdie.”
Lee made birdies at 10 and 11 and an eagle at 12, propelling the fifth-ranked player in the world to the top of the leader board with a 9-under 63. Lee, the fifth-ranked player in the world, is 14 under through 36 holes, three clear of the field but with some big names lurking near the top.
World no. 9 Lexi Thompson fired a 6-under 66 and is tied for second with Ally Ewing, who also shot a 66, and Madelene Sagstrom, who went 2 under on Friday after shooting a 63 on Thursday. All three are at 11 under.
Megan Khang is tied for sixth, six shots back at 8 under after shooting even par to follow up her Thursday 64. And Anna Davis, the 16-year-old who won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur last month, shot a 2-under 70 to get to 4 under to make the cut in a second straight LPGA event, the first two of her career. She’s tied for 32nd, one shot behind World No. 1 Jin Young Ko, who shot a 2-under 70 and is 5 under for the tournament.
Meanwhile, Ireland’s Leona Maguire shot a 4-over 76 to finish 1 over and miss the cut by two. Marina Alex, who grew up in nearby Wayne and picked up her second LPGA victory earlier this month, shot an even-par 72 to finish at two over par and also miss the cut.
As for Lee, she started her second round Friday morning at 5 under and quickly jumped to the top of the field with four birds in her first six holes. And after playing the first three holes of the back nine in 4 under, she also birdied 14 and 15 to reach 10 under with three holes to play.
She had a real chance to shoot 59. But Lee said that wasn’t on her mind before she made bogey on 16.
“I didn’t know,” Lee said. “Now that you say it, maybe I could have, but not today.”
Thompson, who played alongside Lee in the same group, didn’t think she’d be seeing anyone challenging to break 60 earlier this week. And she certainly didn’t see double digits under par leading the tournament after two rounds.
“No, not when it was blowing 25 miles per hour and they were playing it super long,” Thompson said. “I definitely didn’t see it. They moved quite a few tees up, and, I mean, we’ve had perfect conditions, very little wind, and the course is in amazing shape, so you know if you’re just rolling your putts you know it’s not going to bounce . They’re rolling so pure.”
Lee agreed with Thompson. After the practice rounds she believed the winning score would be around 10 under for the week so she was pretty surprised to be four shots better than that after 36 holes.
The 63 marked Lee’s best score of the season — and marked the second time she’s done it in as many events — but she knows that conditions can change quickly over the weekend, and if that happens, a birdie-fest could turn into a much tougher challenge very quickly as Lee looks for her first win of the year and 10th on the LPGA.
“I’m just going to go in with the same mindset, just go shot by shot,” Lee said. ”The course hasn’t been playing too firm yet so I’m not sure how the conditions will change. Just depending. I’ll just be pretty aggressive. … and just do my best.”
Her plan to get ready for playing in the final group Sunday?
“I think I’m going to go get a bubble tea,” Lee said. “Yeah.”