JAMES CITY — Rain delays and bananas have never been credited with magical powers on the golf course, so Minjee Lee fell back on old reasons to explain a binge that has her on the verge of her first professional victory.
The rookie from Australia responded to a two-hour rain delay by shooting 7-under par in a span of nine holes to open a four-stroke lead at the LPGA's Kingsmill Championship, before darkness halted play Sunday evening.
"My putter was rolling pretty hot for those holes, and I really set myself up for a good opportunity to make eagle on 15," said Lee, who is at 16-under-par and will resume play Monday on the fringe of the 16th green. "I was right there and I still have some work to do (Monday). But I just gave myself opportunities. Played smart. I didn't do anything crazy. My putts just seemed to drop."
Lee and seven other players return Monday for a 7 a.m. restart to complete their rounds. Given Lee's four-shot cushion, and the fact that she has only two-plus holes remaining, overtaking her is a monumental task.
"I know four strokes is a lot," said Alison Lee, sitting in second at 12-under with four holes remaining. "One stroke is a lot, but four strokes is a lot. I know I'm going to have to play really aggressively (Monday). I'm going to have a par-5 that's possibly reachable (in two). I don't know with the conditions (Monday) if it's going to be wet or whatever, if I can do that, but I know I'm going to have to play aggressively, for sure, and take risks."
Minjee Lee is six shots clear of a group in third place at 10-under that includes Suzann Pettersen, Paula Creamer, third-round leader Perrine Delacour, Hyo Joo Kim and So Yeon Ryu. Pettersen, the 2007 Kingsmill champ, was the only one of the group to complete her round, shooting 3-under 68.
Kim completed 16 holes, while Creamer, Delacour and Ryu were through 14 holes. The only other players on the course are Lexi Thompson and Angela Stanford, both at 8-under par through 16 holes.
Minjee Lee was among the pack of contenders at 9-under par when play was halted at 3:49 p.m. Sunday. She said that she ate a banana and "chilled" with other players. When play resumed at 5:53, she birdied the par-5 seventh hole and the par-4 ninth hole.
She then birdied Nos. 11, 12 and 14, and capped her run with an eagle-3 on No. 15, striping a 4-iron second shot from 194 yards to within 10 feet and sinking the putt.
Alison Lee took the lead from Delacour early in the final round until Minjee Lee zipped past everyone with her surge.
"I felt like I was striking the ball well today," Alison Lee said. "I really wished we could have kept it going today. … I know I'm going to have to play aggressively, being four strokes behind Minjee. So, yeah, I know what my game plan is going into tomorrow. I think that's positive."
Alison Lee overcame a nosebleed on the ninth hole that caused a brief delay as medical technicians attended to her. She said that she has gotten nosebleeds since she was a youngster and that she had one each day at Kingsmill, though not during play until Sunday. She regrouped to birdie the 10th hole and reach 12-under.
"I know exactly what I have to do," she said. "It's not like I don't know where I am on the scoreboard. I know exactly what I have to do tomorrow if I want to take this. It's all up to me. It's me against the golf course. No matter what Minjee does, I have to play my best."
Meanwhile, Minjee Lee is poised to break through as a professional. The former top-ranked amateur in the world finished in the top 25 in three majors last year. This year, she made six cuts in 10 tournaments, finishing in the top 30 in each.
"Strategy wise, I just want to play smart," Minjee Lee said. "Just take it as it comes and just play each shot to the best of my ability."
Fairbank can be reached by phone at 757-247-4637.