01 Dec 2023 | Australian Open | Men's Australian Open | Professional golf |
Men's wrap: Min Woo makes a charge at Aussie double
by Jimmy Emanuel
Min Woo Lee is without question the man of the moment in Australian golf, with last week’s Fortinet Australian PGA champion now with eyes on also taking the ISPS HANDA Australian Open trophy west for Christmas.
Out in the marquee group alongside Cameron Smith, the Aussie pair were joined by Japan’s Rikuya Hoshino and a throng of fans on Friday afternoon at The Australian Golf Club as Lee authored a 7-under 64 powered by a back nine 30.
The 25-year-old saved his best for last. A swooping hooked 9-iron from 174 metres ended up two feet from the hole on the par-5 18th to set up a simple eagle that took him to 12-under for the tournament and a three-shot lead over Connor Syme and Patrick Rodgers.
The trio of Jhonattan Vegas, Joaquin Niemann and Aussie veteran Sam Brazel are a further shot back.
“A bit lucky off the tee shot, I pulled it, but I smoked it, so I knew I had a chance of carrying that bunker," Lee said of his last hole heroics.
"Ended up in the nice pine straw out there and had a really good number for a 9-iron, like really big 9-iron and I’ve been hitting draws all week and it kind of sat up really nicely.
“I saw the (TV) coverage and it spun left towards the hole and nearly actually went in, so really happy with that finish. It’s always nice to make an eagle whenever, but on the last hole, it’s even nicer.”
The eagle three came after four back nine birdies, including at the 16th where Lee had the large crowd entertained when he asked for the commentary of his birdie try to be shushed before rolling in the 10 footer.
“Yeah, that was funny. I knew while the other boys were putting, you could hear the commentary before and it was just before I went in, it was my sister hitting a putt or a chip or something and then it’s like, ‘Min Woo for the outright lead’,” he said.
Lee once again engendered himself to the Sydney crowd by depositing his ball into the masses to scrap over a valued souvenir.
“That’s just the type of golf I play. I’m not that serious. It’s not many times we get to play out here in Australia and enjoy this type of crowd, so I’m soaking it all in,” he said.
Those chasing Lee were also enjoying the atmosphere and impeccably conditioned Australian, as well as the highly touted The Lakes Golf Club, with Syme recording a 1-under 70 at the latter to reach 9-under early.
Rodgers came in with the same score in one of the last groups at The Australian, which will host the weekend play that gets underway at 6.30am Saturday.
“It’s just awesome playing in front of these crowds. They were tremendous,” American Rodgers said.
“I can’t say that it was unexpected because I know the Australian crowds love their golf, but yeah, it’s just an absolute pleasure to play in front of.”
Beyond Rodgers and Syme, the trio of Niemann, Vegas and Brazel sit in front of nine players on 7-under, including 2018 Australian Golf Club champion Jeffrey Guan, while the early fans through the gate will have the chance to witness Cam Smith and Adam Scott among other big names and rising stars.
The Aussie major-winning pair areboth on four-under through 36 holes.
However, full of confidence after last week’s win and loving life in front of the packed crowds, Lee will be tough to chase down on a course seemingly made for his game and aggressive mindset.
“I don’t back down from anything and I’m an aggressive player and I’ve always been that way so unless I have a massive lead, I mean I probably wouldn't,” Lee said.
“But if I do have somewhat of a lead I would still be aggressive as much as I can. Yeah, go out there and do the same thing.”
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