The future of Australian golf was on full display in the third round of the Oates Vic Open. Minjee Lee held her lead heading into the final day at 13th Beach Golf Links near Melbourne, as three young Australians featured in the top four.
The world number 20, from Perth, Lee posted a two-over 75 in strong winds to end the day on seven-under-par, a stroke ahead of rookie professional Karis Davidson, who had a sensational six-under 67.
Perth’s Hannah Green climbed into a share of third place with a two-under 71, to sit alongside Marianne Skarpnord, from Norway.
American Cheyenne Woods, Swede Pernilla Lindberg and England’s Georgia Hall are five shots from the lead.
Although Lee struggled in the wind, with four bogeys on her card, she limited the damage with two birdies at the fifth and 15th to remain well placed for her second Oates Vic Open title, having previously won in 2014 as a 17-year-old amateur.
“The conditions were tougher and obviously the wind was really strong,” Lee said. “It was tougher to get to the pins and at the start, a few putts probably lipped out and, obviously on the last hole, but in the middle I think I saved quite a few, so it was half and half today. I mean the wind was crazy out there and obviously you want to play well but you have to stay patient as well and just take whatever it gives you and just get on with it.”
Scottish-born Queenslander Davidson, 19, rattled in six birdie putts to move into contention for her first professional title since turning pro in December.
She said: “It was challenging. Sometimes I had a great shot which would go too far into a bunker. You had to really trust to hit two or three clubs extra which is sometimes hard to fathom.
“I just had a really good round today, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to be one off the lead. My goal coming into this week this top 20. This is my first four-day professional event. But I’m not feeling any pressure I’m just going to go out tomorrow and do my best and have fun.”
Green, who spent 40 hours in the same clothes and a practice day without clubs after the long trip from the LPGA Tour’s Bahamas event left her in Melbourne without her luggage on Wednesday, felt tournament ready by Saturday.
She said: “I was able to sleep in this morning and I got a lot of a lot of rest which was good. I think I’m a bit more settled than what it was like the last two days, so it’s just nice to be able to concentrate on the golf course when it’s one of these tough challenging courses.
“Any win in Australia would obviously be massive. I haven’t really thought about it, like this week I just wanted to make the cut, type of thing, with all the circumstances but now that I am in contention it’s obviously on my mind. I know I’ve got to drive well tomorrow and make sure it’s in play. But you also got to make a lot of putts. It’s pretty windy out there.”
Green, who tied for 11th place last week in the Bahamas in even windier conditions, was determined to make the trip to play in the Oates Vic Open.
She said: “I have a great host family, Ian and Cynthia who look after me and I get to stay with my boyfriend (Jarryd Felton) who also plays, so not only are we out playing a great course but you know we’re playing in a great area for great money, so it was kind of hard to turn down.”
The final round of the Oates Vic Open gets under way at 7.45am local time on Sunday and the Australian trio of Lee, Davidson and Green will tee off in the last group at 11.40am.