02 Dec 2023 | Australian Open | Men's Australian Open | Professional golf |
Men's wrap: Min Woo saves best for last in historic double chase
by Jimmy Emanuel
It was one of those days on the golf course for Min Woo Lee Saturday at The Australian, but the West Australian fought hard and birdied the last to draw level with Rikuya Hoshino as leaders of the ISPS HANDA Australian Open.
Seeking to become the first player since Greg Chalmers in 2011 to win the Australian Open and Fortinet Australian PGA in the same year, Lee looked set to continue on his merry way after a birdie at the long par-4 first.
However double-bogey was in his near future, the short par-4 third tripping up the world No.38.
Lee got those two shots back at the fifth and sixth, before his back nine started poorly with a bogey.
The crowd favourite fighting his way through the back nine with pars before an up-and-down birdie at the par-5 18th from the sand to reach 13-under.
“It was a bit of a grind. It wasn’t the easiest of rounds like the last five I’ve played. But golf is golf,” Lee said.
Despite the occasional struggle, Lee remained happy and proud of his ability to hang in and share the lead with Hoshino without his best stuff, a trait he believes shows his increasing maturity as a player.
“That was a problem a couple of years ago and last year and this year’s been pretty good where my bad game has been still okay to compete,” he said.
“I think that’s what has got me to this level now and the level that I can win.
”The confidence to win without his A game will no doubt assist Min Woo as he seeks to end the year with both his national titles, however, Hoshino and the chasing pack won’t be shrinking violets around the impeccably manicured Australian Golf Club.
Japan’s Hoshino is now very familiar with Lee after playing the final round at Royal Queensland alongside him last week, as well as the first two rounds this week.
The DP World Tour member is clearly learning from the experience among the pro-Lee crowds in Brisbane.
“Last week I couldn’t make the birdie on the back nine, but this week I have more birdies on the back nine,” he said Saturday.
One back to the leading pair on 12-under are Alex Fitzpatrick, brother of the major-winning Matthew, and Patrick Rodgers, chasing a first win since 2015 having quietly gone about his work in Sydney on a working holiday.
The American is thoroughly enjoying the atmosphere that has bordered on a Min Woo love fest at times, while happily playing in penultimate group where he can slip under the radar with the chance to break his win drought.
“It’s massive. It’s hard to overstate the importance of the national opens, but specifically the Australian Open, the history, the list of winners, it’s exceptional,” Rodgers said.
“It’s a privilege to be down here playing. It’s, of course, an opportunity for me to get ready for next year, but what an opportunity to just play at an amazing event and it’s showing this weekend.”
Also hoping to take the opportunity to work into contention away from the throngs sure to follow the Lee-Hoshino-Fitzpatrick group will be Lucas Herbert on 11-under and the six players on 9-under that includes two-time winner Matt Jones, Aussie veteran Sam Brazel and Chile’s Joaquin Niemann.
Adam Scott ,a shot further back alongside a mix of locals and internationals comprised of young guns and veterans, has a sentiment that is a common one from the congested chasers.
“I’m going to have to have a few things go my way and I’m going to have to give myself a lot of chances. Really, I just have to play a great round of golf, but it’s possible out here,” Scott said.
Likely needing less than a great round for a second win in a fortnight, Lee unsurprisingly was taking the prospect of creating Australian golf history in his stride.
“If I win, I win and last week was last week,” he said.
“I played great then, so hopefully I can finish it off tomorrow.“I know there’s a lot of history to it, but it’s just another tournament. If it goes well, it goes well.”
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