West Australian Min-Woo Lee fired an incredible four under in his closing three holes to snatch the halfway lead at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in New Zealand.
The 19-year-old made back-to-back birdies at the 16th and 17th holes before closing with a spectacular eagle at Royal Wellington Golf Club.
Lee played his approach into the 497-metre par-5 with a 7-iron – which finished 60 feet from the hole, and on the wrong tier. Or at least it appeared to. He surveyed the sloping putt carefully, before coolly rolling it in and clinching the lead from China’s Yuxin Lin.
Lee was full of praise for his coach, Ritchie Smith, who is on his bag this week – and credited him for the late charge.
“I was chatting with my coach (after the 15th hole) when I was struggling a bit,” Lee said. “I was feeling pretty low … things hadn’t been going my way on the back nine. But he gave me a good kick-on … he said ‘just make a few birdies and you’ll be up there on the leaderboard.’ I trust him with his words and it turned out well.”
For a smaller player, Lee hits the ball tremendous distances and frequently outdrove his playing partners – something he’ll see as an advantage over the weekend. The wiry teenager unleashed a bomb on the 325-metre 17th, which finished within metres of the green and set up a crucial birdie.
“I hit my drive right next to the green on 17 and then chipped and putted for a birdie,” Lee said. “If you can hit it straight and long, it’s definitely an advantage to have a shorter club in,” Lee said.
Those sentiments were somewhat echoed by his older sister, Minjee, who last night provided him with some simple – but seemingly effective – advice over the phone.
“We’re pretty good brothers and sisters, we’re pretty close and we always try to lift each other,” Lee said. “I got to talk to her last night and she said, ‘hit every fairway, hit every green and hole putts,’ which is pretty good advice actually.”
Meanwhile, Shae Wools-Cobb, who shot that terrific opening round yesterday to take an early lead, struggled in the afternoon’s easterly winds.
“It was a different wind … I had never really seen that wind here before,” Wools-Cobb said. “Every hole felt like there was a cross-breeze and I caught a fair few flyers out there, which didn’t really help.”
The Queenslander maintained an admirable level of cool-headedness through a stressful round that produced five bogies. His opening nine was steady, and fairly uneventful on the scorecard, until a missed par putt at the difficult 5th hole. But the 21-year-old rallied. He immediately made amends on the following hole with a successful 15-foot birdie putt.
Shae Wools-Cobb then followed a disappointing stretch of eight holes – which saw him drop four shots – with a birdie at the par-5 18th and will play with Lee tomorrow.
“It was pretty tough going out there, I really struggled and didn’t really get a good rhythm going,” Wools-Cobb said. “But I hung in there and made a birdie at the last – and I’m excited to get out there tomorrow … I’ve known Min for ages and to be in the final group tomorrow is just going to be awesome.”
Joining Lee and Wools-Cobb in the last pairing will be Yuxin Lin, who shot one of the rounds of the day – a four-under 67 – that included a hole-out eagle from 75 metres at the 9th.
“I'm pretty satisfied with the score, especially with an eagle on the last hole,” Lin said. “So I'm looking forward for the last two rounds. It would definitely be an honour to win this event and play the Masters, so I'll play aggressively and stay competitive for the next two days and try to win this thing.”
All six Australians in the field will feature in the final two rounds having made the cut, which stood at plus six as Lee rolled in his eagle at 18. Travis Smyth could argue he caught the wrong side of the draw – again – but the New South Welshman isn’t one to look for excuses. He played another solid round that got him to one-under for the championship and in a tie for 15th.
Playing in the group ahead, Dylan Perry enjoyed a fine day that saw him reach two-under-par – leaving him in a share of ninth. His best shot came at the difficult par-3 16th where his tee ball looked to be flying long, before it horse-shoed back to within a foot for a knock-in birdie.
The 22-year-old was also involved in an interesting situation at the 7th hole when his ball appeared to move as he was lining up a putt. Perry promptly called the rules official over, and there was no penalty invoked as the wind – a natural element – was deemed to have moved his ball.
Harrison Endycott was in the group behind Lee and played a solid even round to sit in a tie for 15th. While Charlie Dann did the same, moving to a share of 28th heading into the weekend.
Although large groups of people followed the Australian players throughout the day, a throng was circled around local favourite Nick Voke. The Kiwi eventually signed a round of 72 and sits in a tie for fourth on three-under.
His compatriot, Kerry Mountcastle took a week off work to compete in the championship this week – and will be spending the weekend at Royal Wellington, too, after joining Voke on three-under-par.