Minjee Lee remains right in the mix for yet more major spoils as the race for Player of the Year honours hots up at the LPGA Tour’s TOTO Japan Classic.
Lee (149 points) enters the season’s third-last event starting on Thursday in second place, just one point behind New Zealand’s fellow two-time major winner Lydia Ko (150).
With 30 points on offer for Sunday’s winner, American Brooke Henderson (130) and Thailand’s new world No.1 Atthaya Thitikul (129) could also take the POTY lead.
Lee had led the standings since winning the US Open in June before Ko took over with victory at last month’s BMW Ladies Championship in Korea.
Australia’s world No.5 has also wrapped up the Annika Major Award for 2022 after also finishing joint second at the LPGA Championship and equal fourth at the Women’s British Open.
Lee, though, will need to reverse a poor run of form to rekindle her hopes for the Rolex Player of the Year gong and also women’s golf’s top ranking.
Normally ultra-consistent, the Perth ace has hit a flat spot after a gruelling campaign that’s also featured a second LPGA Tour win of the year at the prestigious Cognizant Founders Cup in New Jersey.
From her past five events, Lee has tied for 51st and 49th either side of missing three straight cuts.
Ko and Thitikul, on the other hand, are finishing the year on fire.
Ko produced a final-round seven-under-par 65 last outing to reel in Thitikul and grab her second win of a season containing six top-10s.
And Thitikul on Monday crowned her spectacular rookie season by becoming, at 19 years eight months and 11 days, the second-youngest woman to reach world No.1.
Fittingly, given their emerging rivalry, Ko was the youngest, first reaching the summit in 2015 aged 17 years, nine months and nine days.
Thitikul is the 16th different player to make No.1 and second from Thailand following Ariya Jutanugarn, who held top spot for 23 weeks between 2017 and 2019.
The teenage sensation replaced Korean Jin Young Ko, who had held the top spot since January before encountering injury problems.
“It is such an honour to have my name at the top amongst the biggest names of the game,” Thitikul said.
“It is very special to get to the top but it is much harder to retain it. I still have a lot to learn from all the legends and current players both on and off the course and will continue to work hard for my family, my team, my fans and my country.”
Lee isn’t the only Australian teeing it up Japan, with Steph Kyriacou – no doubt inspired by St Michael’s clubmate Harrison Crowe’s career-changing victory at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship on Sunday – also in the field.
The same age as Kyriacou, 21-year-old Sydneysider Crowe earned a ticket to the 2023 Masters at Augusta and British Open at Royal Liverpool with his steely win in Thailand.