17 Jun 2023 | Professional golf |
Lee poised for starring role at US Open
by Tony Webeck
The stage has been set for two Aussies to step into leading roles at the 123rd US Open after LA Country Club bit back on day two in the heart of Hollywood.
West Australian Min Woo Lee will start the third round in a tie for sixth after unleashing a day’s best 5-under 65 in Round 2 as Cameron Smith (67) played a supporting role to also finish inside the top 10.
A day after setting a new US Open low of 8-under 62, American Rickie Fowler ensured he would own the lead outright at the halfway mark with a roller-coaster 2-under 68 that featured eight birdies, six bogeys and just four pars.
Wyndham Clark (67) sits solo second, Rory McIlroy (67) and Xander Schauffele (70) are tied for third, Harris English (66) is outright fifth and Lee is tied with Dustin Johnson (70) at 6-under par and just four strokes from the lead.
A 24-year-old who loves to play to a crowd, Lee is revelling in the creativity required at the North Course at LA Country Club.
Drawing comparisons with the Sandbelt courses of Melbourne, the sun-baked turf firmed up considerably in Round 2, allowing Lee to tap into his shot-shaping best and charge up the leaderboard.
“It reminds me of Royal Melbourne and a few Melbourne courses,” said Lee, who met NBA superstar Blake Griffin following his round.
“I’ve played at Royal Melbourne plenty of times, and I love playing shots and not just hitting a straight shot.
“It’s nice to actually shape shots into greens on some of the tee shots.”
Lee had six birdies and a lone bogey in his second round, firing on all cylinders from tee to green to play his way into a starring role at the main intermission.
He led the cumulative Strokes Gained statistic by a full shot in Round 2, his 7.24 total bolstered by a +2.94 Strokes Gained: Putting performance and +2 Strokes Gained: Approach having hit 29 of 36 greens in regulation at the halfway point.
Top 10 heading into the final round of the US PGA Championship and in the final group with Scottie Scheffler at THE PLAYERS Championship, Lee is once again poised to step into the spotlight in one of golf’s showpiece events.
“That was one of the times where I really thought I could actually contend and be there,” Lee said of his experience at THE PLAYERS where he ultimately finished tied for sixth.
“I had a couple bad holes at THE PLAYERS but I really didn’t think I was far off.
“That gave me a lot of confidence for the tournaments coming through.
“I will definitely lean in to it. Every round I play is something you learn, so just make sure you do learn and don’t do them again.”
As the reigning Open champion, Smith knows exactly what’s necessary to win a major.
The 29-year-old had five birdies in his round of 3-under 67 and will enter the weekend six strokes off the lead.
Only one player since 1996 has won the US Open from that far back after 36 holes (Webb Simpson in 2012) but Smith remains hopeful that firmer course conditions will play to his advantage.
“I just love the turf, the way it runs out,” said Smith, who played the back nine at St Andrews in 6-under 30 to win The Open 11 months ago.
“I think it will start to play firmer and faster as the weekend goes on. Hopefully this place gets really baked out and we can have some fun out there.
“It feels like I’m not doing much wrong. I just need those longer putts, one or two to drop every round, and I’m right there.”
Kiwi Ryan Fox safely advanced to the final two rounds despite a 4-over 74 in Round 2 but Lucas Herbert (75), Adam Scott (72), Jason Day (76), Karl Vilips (75) and Cam Davis (79) all fell victim to the cut-line that fell at 2-over.
Round 2 scores 1 Rickie Fowler 62-68—130 T6 Min Woo Lee 69-65—134 10 Cameron Smith 69-67—136 T49 Ryan Fox (NZ) 68-74—142 T92 Lucas Herbert 70-75—145 T92 Adam Scott 73-72—145 T132 Jason Day 73-76—149 T132 Karl Vilips (a) 74-75—149 T144 Cam Davis 72-79—151
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