‘Don’t back down from anything’: Min Woo’s epic eagle opens HUGE lead at Aus Open, Smith and Scott rally to stay in mix

Min Woo Lee started the day with a bogey. Then, the hottest new golfing talent taking Australian sport by storm let rip.

The 25-year-old made six birdies and a stunning eagle on 18 in front of a packed hill and hundreds of fans swarming the finishing hole to finish seven-under for the day and move to 12-under through two rounds at The Australian Open on Friday.

He heads to the weekend three shots clear of Britain’s Connor Syme and the United States of America’s Patrick Rodgers, who are both nine-under after making just two-under and one-under for the day respectfully.

One shot further back is Chilean Joaquin Niemann, who earlier this year finished 16th at the Masters.

While local stars Cam Davis, Matt Jones and Lucas Herbert are still firmly in the hunt at six-under, with Marc Leishman (-5) and major winners Adam Scott and Cameron Smith one shot further back.

It makes for a compelling weekend ahead, with all the big hopes firmly in the mix.

Min Woo Lee celebrates making an eagle on the 18th hole during the ISPS HANDA Australian Open at The Australian Golf Course on December 01, 2023 in Sydney. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

But all eyes were on Lee on Friday afternoon at The Australian.

Fresh from taking out the Australian PGA Championship, Lee took to the tee across the road from The Lakes where Scott and Jones had earlier made their move and things quickly went awry.

Both Lee and Smith bogeyed the opening hole in an ominous start.

Nervous? Nope. Water off a duck’s back really.

“This hole was brutal,” Lee said moments after finishing his round as a three-shot leader on the edge of the opening hole he bogeyed after battling his way down the first and two-putting the green.

“This first hole, in the practice round I smoked the drive and I still had 170m in and usually on a par four that’s not the case for me. I’m not sure what it’s playing, but I’m sure it’s over par, not many birdies on that hole. I didn’t let it faze me.”

It sure didn’t, as the West Australian, who moved up to 38th on the world golf rankings with his win last weekend at Royal Queensland, recovered on the front nine to finish one under at the turn before exploding on the back nine.

Lee birdied 11, 12, 14 and 16 before his brilliant nine-iron in from the pine straw and over the water rolled scrumptiously from right to left to the hole.

“We’ll call it hard, it was very tough, it was unbelievable. The best shot I’ve ever hit,” he quipped.

“No, it was nice, it was a good swing.

“Really happy with that finish and it’s always nice making eagle whenever, but on the last hole it’s even nicer.”

That’s outrageous @Minwoo27Lee ????‍????

Off the pine straw to set up an eagle finish and open up a three-shot lead. #AusOpenGolf pic.twitter.com/iU9OyonxsS

— DP World Tour (@DPWorldTour) December 1, 2023

Relaxed and confident, Lee said he was living out his dream by wowing the strong crowds through the opening two days in Sydney at the dual-gender event being played across The Australian and neighbouring Lakes Golf Club.

“It’s the person I am. I’ve always been a centre of attention person. It’s fun. They’re responsive which is nice and react to what I do. It’s always what I’ve dreamed of as a kid,” he said.

A three-shot lead might cripple some. Just ask Greg Norman.

But Lee said he wouldn’t retreat into his shell over the weekend.

“People know who I am. I’m pretty true to myself. I don’t back down from anything,” he said.

“I’m an aggressive player and I’ve always been that way. Unless I have a massive lead, I probably wouldn’t. but if I have somewhat of a lead I’ll be as aggressive as I can.

“I feel really good. I’ve got a lot of control over my ball, I chip and putt unbelievable. But after last weekend, I didn’t finish that well and I wanted to get a bit better. I’ve worked with my coach to fix that.”

Smith, the 2022 Open champion and one of Australia’s highest paid players after his $140 million LIV joining fee, too started the day with a bogey.

Having ground his way to a one-under on Thursday at The Lakes, Smith struck five birdies, including on 18 after his spectacular up-and-down went close to dropping, and two bogies to make finish three-under for the day and make the cut a week after his forgettable early exit last weekend.

“It was a lot better today and could have been way less,” Smith said.

“I did everything I needed to do today except hole the putts, which is really frustrating.  So yeah, just need to go out there tomorrow and do much more of the same, just hopefully hear some of those putts over 10 feet go in.”

Cameron Smith plays a shot from the bunker on the 18th hole at The Australian Golf Course on December 01, 2023 in Sydney. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Australia’s best women’s hope Minjee Lee struggled, shooting a three-over to be tied-12th at even-par.

Local star Stephanie Kyriacou also shot a three-over to be tied-8th at one-under.

Sixteen-year-old amateur star Rachel Lee, who shot an incredible six-under on Thursday, couldn’t continue her fairy tale start to The Australian Open as she shot a seven-over to be one-over heading into the weekend.

Internationals Jiyai Shin (-9), Ashleigh Buhai (-8) and Jenny Shin (-7) head into the weekend in the lead.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.