(Photo credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)
Alison Lee birdied four of her final five holes to shoot an 8-under 64 Friday and tie Japan's Nasa Hataoka for the 36-hole lead at the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla.
Lee and Hataoka are at 14-under 130, with Ruoning Yin of China, Minjee Lee of Australia and Amy Yang of South Korea one shot off the pace at Tiburon Golf Club.
Alison Lee, 28, has never broken through on the LPGA Tour. But she placed second at the BMW Ladies Championship in South Korea last month, then won the Aramco Team Series event in Riyadh on the Ladies European Tour and tied for second last week at The Annika.
A victory in the season finale for the $2 million first prize would be one memorable breakthrough.
"This is my 27th week on the road now playing in tournaments," Lee said. "That doesn't include visiting my parents or a few weeks where I kind of go visit friends or play in pro-ams, stuff like that. It's a tough life. It's a grind. I've been doing this since I was basically 7 years old."
Lee collected five birdies and her only bogey of the day over her first seven holes. After six straight par saves, she began her closing run of birdies at the par-5 14th.
"Over the last few weeks, putting myself in contention, playing four rounds of really good golf and almost winning a few times, it's definitely ignited a fire in me," Lee said. "Definitely given me a lot more motivation to work hard, and it's shown me that I do still have what it takes to win out here. That's definitely the goal for this week.
"Still a lot of golf left. Hopefully, I can keep my head down and keep grinding through to the weekend."
Hataoka shared the first-round lead with Yin after they shot 9-under 63s. Hataoka carded a 67 on Friday and Yin followed with a 68.
"Today was a different wind direction, so it was a little bit tougher for me," said Hataoka, who made two of her seven birdies at Nos. 17 and 18.
"Eighteenth hole, I hit OK, but my putting was really good, about like 30 feet."
Minjee Lee posted a 67 to stay one shot back of the leaders, while Yang fired a bogey-free 63 with six birdies on the back nine to catapult into contention.
"It was just one of those days that I hit it really solid out there, gave myself lots of chances. My putting was really on top of it," Yang said.
Tied for sixth at 11 under are Thailand's Atthaya Thitikul and China's Xiyu Lin, each of whom posted a second-round 66.
Lilia Vu shot a 66 Friday to move to 8 under, part of a star-studded tie with Nelly Korda (68), Gaby Lopez of Mexico (65), Canada's Brooke Henderson (67), South Korea's Hyo Joo Kim (67), and Sweden's Anna Nordqvist (71).
Vu, who won last week at The Annika and captured two major championships, is battling France's Celine Boutier for Rolex Player of the Year honors. Boutier (70 Friday) is nine back at 5 under.
--Field Level Media