09 Oct 2022 | Professional golf |
Min Woo Lee goes head to head with Rahm
by Australian Golf Media
By Tony Webeck
West Australian Min Woo Lee is determined to deny world No. 6 Jon Rahm a slice of history when the pair continue their head-to-head battle at the DP World Tour’s Open de Espana in Madrid. Lee and Rahm will play alongside each other for the fourth consecutive day in what shapes as a mouth-watering final round, the home crowd rallying late behind Rahm as he surged to a one-stroke lead through 54 holes. After Rahm’s eagle try at the last came up agonisingly short Lee had to produce a birdie putt of his own from 14 feet to stay within one after owning a share of the lead midway through the third round. Rahm (65) will begin the final round at 16-under par and with his sights firmly set on joining the great Seve Ballesteros as a three-time winner of the Spanish national title. Lee (66) knows he will very much be playing the role of the villain on Sunday in what will be an intense atmosphere but can take heart from the fact that his best performances in 2022 have come in major championships. Locked in for a return to the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship next month, Lee’s only top-25 results on tour this year have come at The Masters (T14) and The Open (T21). Fully aware of the home-country loyalties, he is ready to embrace a raucous Spanish crowd and push for a first win in more than a year. “Halfway there the Spanish crowd was against me a little bit, but it’s all part of it, we are all trying to inspire little kids and play the best golf we can,” said Lee, currently ranked No.73 in the Official World Golf Ranking. “It’s awesome, kids back there waving, and the crowds are being awesome. We’ve just been playing back and forth and its good for both of us. “Jon has obviously won plenty of times and it’s just nice that the last three days have been pressure packed so I will just go out tomorrow, do the same thing, not change much and just keep playing the way I am. “This year has been a bit rough so it’s actually really nice to see the ball go where it should be. I am happy to be in this position and hopefully we give the crowd a show tomorrow.” Rahm himself was full of praise for the way the 24-year-old Lee has played the first three days and knows he won’t back away from the battle with the tournament on the line. “He had that bad start on the front nine on Thursday and has played amazing since then,” said Rahm, the Open de Espana champion in both 2018 and 2019. “I had the bad start on my front nine on Friday, and everything else has been great golf. “It is easy to feed off each other. Every time one of us is in the fairway we are going to have a birdie look, so you know birdies are coming. We have both been getting up and down from a lot of spots – he has had two hole-outs, I’ve had one – and some really good shots besides those that we holed out. “Hopefully my best round can be tomorrow. Let’s hope for that and have an enjoyable walk down 18. That would be a perfect day.” Rahm was two shots behind overnight leaders Stephen Gallacher and Paul Waring at the start of his round and the Spaniard birdied the fourth and picked up another shot at the seventh, despite leaving an awkward up-and-down after missing the green to the left of the par 5. Lee went one better with an eagle after smashing a 5-iron 241 yards down the hill to a few feet before knocking in the putt – and it was the Aussie and Gallacher out in front. Rahm watched Lee reach 14-under at the 11th when he rolled in a 22-footer with a touch of left-to-right, but he made sure the gap stayed one by following him in from 11 feet for his own birdie. The locals were cheering again when Rahm almost holed his approach to the par-4 12th, the ball spinning back past the cup and leaving a tricky putt for birdie – but he holed it and took a share of pole position. Rahm left his eagle putt at the par-five 14th just a touch short but walked off with birdie and led on his own at 15-under when Lee could only par after going long with his second. A mini-run of pars followed for the pair but Rahm had to work hard at 17, holing a tricky save from seven feet after finding sand with his tee shot.
Lee is not the only Australian with thoughts of victory with one round to play.
Three birdies in the space of four holes has kept the top of the leaderboard within sight for Cam Davis at the Shriners Children's Open in Las Vegas.
A third round of three-under 68 will see Davis begin the final round at TPC Summerlin in a tie for 13th at 12-under par, seven shots back of American Patrick Cantlay who produced a spectacular 11-under 60.
There are three Aussies inside the top 25 with a round to play, Lucas Herbert (65) one shot back of Davis in a tie for 17th and Jason Day (66) in a tie for 23rd.
Marc Leishman (69, T8) leads the Aussie charge ahead of Sunday’s final round of the LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok, Kiwi Daniel Hillier is again in contention on the Challenge Tour and Europe and Gabi Ruffels and Robyn Choi have one round left to secure an LPGA Tour card in 2023.
Ruffels currently sits at No.14 on the Epson Tour’s Ascensus Race for the Card and after shooting 5-under in the second and third rounds of the Epson Tour Championship is tied for 10th and projected to jump one spot in the rankings.
While she tries not to think about it on the course, Ruffels knows what she needs to secure a coveted LPGA card and has no intention of giving up the fight.
“I need a pretty good finish to be able to jump inside that top 10 and avoid Q-Series,” Ruffels conceded.
“I’ve been just going for it this week. It’s a birdie-fest out here, you have to be aggressive, you have to go for it.”
Choi (66) is one shot back of Ruffels in 14th position and projected to fall from 15th to 16th, making her Sunday assignment one of controlled aggression.
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