Fifteen birdies, back-to-back seven-under 63s and a cheque for €152,479 ($A240,951); Min Woo Lee has discovered quickly how much fun playing on the weekends can be as a professional.
Smarting after missing the cut in his professional debut two weeks ago, Lee arrived at the inaugural Saudi International determined to start putting money in the bank and did so in emphatic fashion.
Having finished two shots to the better of the cut line, the 20-year-old announced himself to the golf world with a Saturday 63 and then followed that up with another on Sunday to finish in fourth position, four shots behind the winner, American Dustin Johnson.
“I didn’t know what to expect today,” Lee said after his round.
“I just knew that I had to keep my head in the game, really, and hit every shot really fully committed. I’m happy that I did and I’m glad with the score. I know those guys are superstars, so I just said, play my own game.
“I’m glad I posted a low score. I don’t know what’s going on behind me. I think they are a few ahead but I’m just happy with my second start as a pro. Hopefully it’s a bit of a momentum booster, but yeah, I’m super happy.”
Prior to this week, Lee’s lowest score in a professional tournament was 64 at the WA Open when he was just 16 years of age and he took no time in showing he had the temperament to handle being in contention in the final round.
As he did on Saturday, Lee birdied the opening hole of his round and picked up three more shots before the turn at the fourth, fifth and seventh holes.
A sublime greenside bunker shot set up a fifth birdie at the 340-metre par-4 10th and he gave himself another wonderful look at the 150-metre, par 3 11th.
He was unable to convert that opportunity and when his second shot flew the green at the par-4 12th and he failed to get up and down his charge up the leaderboard temporarily stalled.
A bounce-back opportunity at the par-4 13th hung out on the right edge of the cup but he drained one from distance at the next hole to get back to five-under on his round and 13-under for the tournament.
As he did 24 hours earlier, the Royal Fremantle member birdied both the 17th and 18th holes to turn a sponsor’s invitation into a week he will never forget.
Lee has stated that with limited status, his priority this year is the Web.com Tour and will make his first appearance there at this week’s Panama Championship.
When the final round began Lee, Scott Hend and New Zealand’s Ryan Fox were all well inside the top 10 and hoping to make an impression on the runaway leaders in Johnson and China’s Haotong Li.
A back nine of 29 in the third round catapulted Fox up the leaderboard heading into the final round and he continued the hot streak with birdies at the first and fourth holes on Sunday. Twelve consecutive pars prevented the Kiwi crusher from making more of an impression but was nonetheless delighted with a tie for sixth in such a strong field so early in the year.
“My game has certainly been a little bit rusty the past couple of weeks and I haven’t looked like being in contention,” Fox said. “It’s nice this week to find a little bit of game and kick some of the rust off and have a chance against four of the top five players in the world.”
Like Fox, Hend also finished tied for sixth at 11-under thanks largely to a late flurry to his fourth round.
A second round of 63 was the highlight of the Queenslander’s week with three birdies in his final four holes a nice way to finish heading into the ISPS Handa Vic Open at Thirteenth Beach Golf Links this week.
In his debut event as a member of the European Tour, Queensland’s Jake McLeod made five consecutive birdies in his opening five-under 65, closing with a 68 to be tied for 34th and a wonderful confidence boost for the rest of the year.
Sam Brazel and Wade Ormsby both failed to make the cut.