[PHOTO: Getty Images]
Describing Min Woo Lee as one of the hottest players in the world, Lucas Herbert says he is the man to beat as the Australian Open looks set to deliver a grandstand finish on Sunday.
Lee and Herbert are the local hopes as several accomplished foreign players – like Japan’s Rikuya Hoshino, England’s Alex Fitzpatrick and PGA Tour regular Patrick Rodgers – made their way up the leaderboard on Saturday at The Australian Golf Club.
Herbert fired a five-under 66 on moving day at The Australian to launch himself into the mix with a 11-under par total. Herbert trails co-leaders, Lee and Japan’s Hoshino, by two shots. Hoshino, second to Lee at last week’s Australian PGA, posted a 65 to finish three rounds at 13-under. Lee joined Hoshino moments later with a birdie on the 18th giving him a 70. Lee said he wasn’t suffering fatigue after a whirlwind year highlighted by a T-5 at the US Open and earning a 2024 PGA Tour card.
“Obviously, it is towards the end of the year and last round of the year is tomorrow, but it’s just another reason to give it my all before I take a break. I’m pretty happy with the game and I feel fine. So yeah, hopefully tomorrow’s good.”
Alex Fitzpatrick, younger brother of 2022 US Open winner Matt, shot 66 on Saturday and he sat at 12-under tied for third with Rodgers (68).
Lee, the overnight leader by three, was chased down on moving day but Herbert maintains he is the player the contenders are chasing. The younger brother of LPGA star Minjee Lee has won two of his past four starts, last week’s Australian PGA and the Macao Open. In the other two, Lee finished T-15 (DP World Tour Championship) and T-6 (PGA Tour’s Zozo Championship). He has risen to world No.38.
Herbert is determined to find the gear to catch Lee in Sunday’s final round.
“It definitely fires you up and he’s a good target to chase at the moment,” Herbert said. “He’s playing as well as anyone in the world, so if you can keep up with him you’re doing pretty well. I think there’s probably two sides of Min Woo; there’s the off-course side [Lee’s “Let him cook” social media antics] and there’s an on-course side. I’m not going to keep up with him in the off course side of things, but on course he’s a good a good yardstick. If he is to win this week, that’ll be three wins in a month. That’s basically as good as anyone is playing worldwide. I think he’s always had that X-factor and you just knew he’d figured it out at some point; he’s always had a bucketload of talent.”
Herbert is chasing his fourth career DP World Tour win but first big title on home soil. The Bendigo native said he was hungry to be in the mix at the pointy end of the back nine on Sunday. He said he’d need to drive it like he did on 18th on Saturday, a 350-metre bomb down the par-5 that set up a closing birdie, and continue to chip and putt well.
“The way my game felt the last couple of holes today. If that game turns up tomorrow, I’ll really enjoy it,” he said. “It’s a tournament I’ve had a few chances to win over the years and haven’t quite gotten there.”
Lee in action on Saturday at The Australian GC. [Photo: Getty Images]
For Sunday’s charge towards a maiden Australian Open crown, Hebert will take inspiration from taking Rory McIlroy to the 18th hole in their clash at the World Golf Championships–Dell Match Play earlier this year. Herbert lost 2 down to the Northern Irishman.
“The best day of golf I had this year was playing Rory in match play because I felt like that was pretty much as good as I could play and I pushed him all the way to the end,” he said. “Rory beat me but I could see from the look in his eye that I pushed him past second and third gear.
“If I’m not far off the lead [on Sunday at The Australian GC] battling it out with Min Woo and he’s playing well, that’s about the most fun you can have in golf.”
Hoshino is searching for a maiden DP World Tour win but said he will lean on his six victories on the Japan Tour for Sunday’s charge at The Australian.
“I’m going to use my experience in winning tournaments in Japan and I’m going try do my best,” he said. “My goal is winning this DP World Tour this year.”
Meanwhile, defending Women’s Australian Open champion Ashleigh Buhai appears to have one hand on the Patricia Bridges Bowl with a commanding lead over former women’s world No.1 Jiyai Shin. Minjee Lee posted a 69 to sit at five under, one shot ahead of Steph Kyriacou and Jenny Shin.
In the ISPS Handa Australian All Abilities Championship, Australia’s Lachlan Wood won his maiden G4D Tour title on home soil with a three-stroke win over Ireland’s Brendan Lawlor. Wood finished at even par with Lawlor at three over and Cameron Pollard a shot further back.
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