Minjee Lee wins Evian Championship after dramatic comeback, playoff
It was perhaps fitting that Minjee Lee missed her eagle putt on the 73rd green at the Evian Championship. In that moment, on the green of the first playoff hole, Lee hit her first pressure-free stroke in what felt like hours. But as she did time and time again over that same stretch, she executed when it mattered, and she tapped in the birdie for her first major championship.
The story of Lee’s victory at the Evian Championship was one of pressure-packed performance. It was highlighted by a comeback from seven strokes down, tied for the largest in women’s major championship history, and punctuated by a brilliant performance on a one-hole playoff to outlast Jeongeun Lee6’s historic effort at Evian Resort Club.
Of course, Sunday at the Evian Championship was never supposed to be the roller coaster it became. It was supposed to be a coronation for Lee6, who entered the final round leading by five strokes after recording the lowest major championship round in golf history on Friday. But Lee6 faltered on the front nine to five bogeys — as many as she’d had all week leading into Sunday — and opened the door for a handful of opponents to make a charge.
First, it seemed Yealimi Noh was primed to step into the lead on the eve of her 20th birthday. Noh, a Bay Area native, exercised every ounce of her California cool in her Sunday 67. She never flinched as Lee (her playing partner) and Lee6 began jockeying for position down the stretch, staying in it right until the 72nd hole. But then, when the pressure mounted on the 18th green, Noh’s six-footer for birdie dove off to the right, while Lee’s found the center of the cup.
Then, seconds later, Lee6 recorded her third straight birdie — an improbable feat that felt oddly like fate — to close out an inward 32 and send the two Lees into a playoff for the major.
The pressure mounted once again on the first playoff hole when Lee and Lee6 both found the fairway within 5 yards of one another on the par-5 18th. Lee delivered once more on the first of the two approach shots, muscling a 6-iron to six feet and shifting the pressure back to Lee6. She didn’t know it at the time, but Lee’s approach would become the shot of the tournament — a shot Lee later admitted wouldn’t have happened if not for a deft decision by her caddie, Jason Gilroyed.
“I had like 173 into the pin, and a little bit of adrenaline,” Lee said. “I actually said 5-iron and Gillie said 6, and I’m so thankful to Gillie that I hit 6-iron.”
Seconds after Lee’s approach, Lee6 dunked hers in the water in front. A chip and four putts later, a winner had been decided. Lee6 carded a bogey 6 on her first playoff hole, while Lee tapped-in for an easy birdie 4.
“I never really thought about it when I was playing,” Lee told CNBC afterward. “I was just trying to make as many birdies as I could. I saw the leaderboard once or twice. I just tried to play to the best of my ability and it’s really great to win a major. It’s really amazing.”
As for what her loved ones would have thought about Sunday’s drama, Lee laughed. Her parents were watching from back home in Perth, Australia, where it was shortly before midnight. It’s sure to be a late night in the Lee household, but after what Minjee did on Sunday evening, there’s no question they’ll sleep well.
“I’m sure they’re watching; I think it’s like really early in the morning,” she said. “I just want to say thank you for everything. They sacrificed so much for me. I know they’re really, really happy, and I am too.”