07 Mar 2023 | Professional golf |
Min Woo walks the tightrope ahead of The Players debut
by Dane Heverin
Min Woo Lee’s place in the field at The Masters is balancing on a knife’s edge ahead of his debut in the PGA Tour’s flagship event The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Florida.
Lee earned a start in the $US 25 million tournament courtesy of being ranked inside the top 50 in the world, but the world No. 50 must bounce back from a missed cut at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational to move one step closer to a spot at Augusta National next month.
If the West Australian is still inside the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings in the week prior to the first major of the year, he will have the chance to play for the green jacket but right now, he is walking the tightrope.
“I'm just thankful to get into the tournament. I was the last person pretty much to get in from the rankings, being 50th on the dot,” Lee said.
“But I’m excited. I played the front nine today and I’ll play the back nine with Adam Scott and Jason Day tomorrow. So, I’m really excited to play the back nine and especially those finishing holes are going to be special.”
The 24-year-old has developed a reputation for thriving on the big stage after he produced eye-catching performances in major championships last year including a front nine 30 on Sunday at The Masters, and he is leaning on the pair of Australian former world number ones to help him deliver on the big stage once again.
Scott (2004) and Day (2016) are both past champions in this event and will have a few pointers on how to best navigate the iconic island green par 3 17th hole and the closing hole where water lines the entire left-hand side of the par 4.
“I can't wait to play with those two,” Lee said.
“They're really nice guys and they're always willing to give advice, which is really cool. Obviously being a fellow Aussie it's always nice to play with them. Haven't played with them in a while. So, I can't wait to get it going tomorrow and experience the back nine.
“I definitely think I belong out here. Obviously courses like last week are so tough and I still got a lot of experiencing and a lot of golf to go. But, yeah, I think the good golf is there. I make tons of birdies and I hit it a long way and I've been hitting it a lot better. But just getting all four rounds together, it's tough. So, yeah, I'm looking forward to all the challenges ahead.”
In recent months Lee has placed a lot of emphasis on improving his approach play and the early signs have been positive with him starting the year with a runner-up finish on the DP World Tour in Abu Dhabi and backing that up with a tied 13th finish in Dubai the following week.
Lee’s form on the formerly named European Tour has been brilliant with that Dubai result being his worst in eight starts, but even when he has not been near the top of the leaderboard, the improvement in his game is visible.
“Even though I didn’t play that well last week, I was top 20 in approach play for the first two rounds. So that’s a very big step forward for myself and my team,” he said.
“Hopefully, I can drive it a little bit better than last week and keep going. The game’s trending.”
As for the pressure of trying to lock in a second appearance at Augusta National, Lee is not letting himself look beyond The Players and the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play in two weeks times.
“Those two tournaments to get me in the top 50. It’s in the back of my mind, but I'm not really thinking about it too much,” he said.
“Obviously there's a bigger task in front of me and I got to play well this week. But I guess good golf takes care of itself. But it's an exciting time. I'm in a good spot right now and hopefully I can have a good week in these next two and I'm excited.”
Lee has been drawn to tee off in the first group of the day alongside Americans Robby Shelton and Austin Smotherman on Thursday.
Scott, Day, Cam Davis, Harrison Endycott, Aaron Baddeley and Lucas Herbert are the other Australians in the field this week.
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