Major winner Webb Simpson has backed Min Woo Lee remain high on the leaderboard throughout the Open Championship after playing the first round at St Andrews with the talented young Australian.
Lee shot 69 to post a three-under-par score and earned the admiration of his playing partner, 2012 US Open winner Simpson, who thinks the Perth native can go all the way.
“His shotmaking was awesome,” Simpson told Australian Golf Digest. “He hit a lot of different shots at a lot of different heights. I was very impressed with his game, all-round. With three more good rounds like he had today I certainly think he’s got what it takes (to win).”
Lee, who woke at 4am Thursday to the sound of Tiger Woods’ victory at the 2000 Open at St Andrews playing on his laptop, had an early start – he was in the first group of the tournament playing with Simpson and former Open champion Paul Lawrie. The trio teed off at 6.35am local.
“It’s a weird story,” Lee said about his early wakeup. “I was watching Tiger in 2000 St Andrews before I closed the laptop at 8.30pm and fell asleep, but it was playing when it was closed somehow. It woke me up at 4am; it was a good wake up call I guess.”
The younger brother of multiple Major winner, Minjee Lee, got off to a horror start when he pushed his drive at the par-4 third into a gorse bush before attempting to escape with his second and hitting it even further into the shrub. He took double-bogey 6.
“Welcome to the British Open,” Lee joked with reporters about the double-bogey. “It was a good wake-up call, I guess.”
Lee bounced back with a birdie at the next hole and added two more on the front nine to turn one under.
“It was a good recovery, a great recovery,” he said. “The one thing I haven’t been good at is bouncing back from bad shots. So hitting 9-iron into the next hole and making birdie there kind of kicked off the round.”
Lee’s back nine of 34 featured a birdie at No.12 and a bogey at the Road Hole 17th, but the highlight was an eagle at the par-5 14th after a stunning 6-iron and 30-foot uphill putt he made for a 3.
“I had to wait 10 minutes to hit the putt because the pin on the (other side of the shared green), but I made sure I read that putt good and just rolled a 30-footer up the hill.”
The 23-year-old Lee, playing the fourth Major of his career, said he enjoyed golf’s biggest stage and was excited for the next three rounds.
“I really like it when crowds are out and on every hole and you just have to keep your head (in the game). You can’t (lose your focus) like I have been doing. There’s something about the Majors I really enjoy.”
Lee said he would try and relax in the seaside town of St Andrews with his mother and girlfriend before a Friday afternoon tee time in the second round.
“St Andrews, it’s an amazing event. I’m going to go out to have lunch and see people and just enjoy it. I got my girlfriend and my mum out here. So just a normal day for us.”