12 Mar 2023 | Professional golf |
Lee two back as Aussies light up The Players
by Australian Golf Media
By Tony Webeck
West Australian Min Woo Lee has vowed to embrace the fear factor of TPC Sawgrass as he seeks to take down world No.2 Scottie Scheffler in the final group at THE PLAYERS Championship in Florida.
A two-time winner on the DP World Tour but not yet a member of the PGA TOUR, Lee’s only bogey of a third round of six-under 66 came at his final hole, a three-putt bogey from the fringe after his tee shot finished awkwardly abutting the collar of rough to the left of the fairway.
That dropped shot and Scheffler’s closing birdie in a round of seven-under 65 will see Lee enter the final round two shots back and two clear of fellow Australian Cam Davis (67).
From Lee’s hole-out eagle from 112 yards at his opening hole, the delayed third round was littered with stunning highlights from our leading players.
Davis chipped in for eagle at the par-5 11th, almost made an ace at the par-3 17th that was playing as benign as it possibly could and then birdied the devilish 18th to move into outright third with a round of 67.
A chip in from the collar on 17 was the golden moment for Jason Day as he stayed in the mix with a third straight round of two-under 70 but it is Lee who is turning heads.
He scraped into the field by virtue of being ranked inside the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking two weeks ago, one-eighth of a shot from falling to 51st.
The opportunity to follow in the footsteps of 2022 champion Cameron Smith and join Steve Elkington, Greg Norman, Adam Scott and Jason Day as Aussies to win the PGA TOUR’s showpiece event is now before him and he intends to put on a show for the raucous Sunday galleries.
“I love playing in front of a crowd, and I love entertaining them,” said Lee, the 2021 Scottish Open champion.
“I hope they had a good show today and hopefully I can do it again tomorrow.
“I mean Sawgrass is scary. There’s a lot of times where people have faltered and you don’t want to be one of those.
“But as long as you can control your emotions and go out there and have fun, which I did, it was fun playing really good golf.
“Tomorrow could be the biggest day of my life, but I’m going to go out there and have fun again.
“It’s been the motto for the last three months. Not taking it too seriously. I like to have fun and interact with the fans when I can.
“I just crept into this tournament and making the most of it and soaking it all in.”
In addition to the $US4.5 million winner’s prize purse, THE PLAYERS champion receives a five-year exemption on the PGA TOUR, a three-year invitation to the Masters Tournament, three-year exemptions for the US Open and The Open Championship and an exemption to the next three PGA Championship tournaments.
They are life-changing rewards yet the 24-year-old gave no indication on Saturday that he is overawed by the occasion.
The eagle at one was an unexpected bonus and a 34-foot birdie putt on the par-4 fourth brought him to within one of the lead.
A wedge inside eight feet set up birdie at the par-4 sixth and he made the turn in five-under by getting up-and-down from 39 yards at the par-5 ninth.
A brilliant par save on 10 preceded back-to-back birdies from 17 and four feet respectively at 11 and 12 to take the outright lead before a lip-out bogey on 18 – his third consecutive bogey on that hole – saw him end the day two back.
Davis threw his hat into the ring with three birdies and an eagle on the back nine of his third round to play his way into third position in his third start at TPC Sawgrass.
It is the first time the 2017 Australian Open champion has played all four rounds at THE PLAYERS and he is learning how to navigate Pete Dye’s most renowned layout.
“This course can suit anyone or no one,” Davis reasoned.
“It’s not overly long, it forces you to take some shorter lines off the tees because you can’t cut a lot of corners and because the pins are cut in the way they are, good shots get rewarded, some almost great shots don’t.
“Sometimes it can be very hard to make pars even though you’re feeling like you’re playing well. Sometimes it feels like the birdies won’t stop coming.
“I’m glad I had the latter on the back nine today.
“You just have to get out of your way and play the golf course as it presents itself to you as you go around and try not to force anything to happen.
“It feels like I’ve been cruising even though I haven’t been hitting it super great off the tee.
“I’ve kept myself in it.”
Round 4 tee times AEDT 9.44pm Adam Scott, Sepp Straka 9.53pm Aaron Baddeley, Patton Kizzire 12.35am Ryan Fox (NZ), Cameron Young 2am Jason Day, Viktor Hovland 3.35am Cam Davis, Tommy Fleetwood 3.45am Min Woo Lee, Scottie Scheffler
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