Min Woo Lee chips out of a bunker on the 18th hole at the Open.
Min Woo Lee's last-hole birdie earned him a share of the lead going into the Open's final round. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS
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Min Woo Lee closes in on rare and famous golf double

Darren Walton December 2, 2023

Min Woo Lee is feeling typically nonchalant about his chances of joining golf royalty with a popular Australian Open triumph in Sydney. 

Lee conjured some last-hole magic for the second day running to set up another final-round duel with Japan’s equally in-form Rikuya Hoshino and remain on track to complete a golden summer double on Sunday.

Golf’s new fan-favourite produced a brilliant sand-save birdie at the 18th to send spectators into a frenzy and Lee back to the top of the leaderboard after Saturday’s third round.

Lee’s roller-coaster one-under-par 70 was in stark contrast to his dazzling Friday 64, which he iced with a tap-in eagle at the 18th.

But it was enough to move him to 13 under and a share of the lead with Hoshino, the final-round playing partner who Lee pipped to claim the Australian PGA Championship last Sunday.

If he wins again to hoist the Stonehaven Cup, the 25-year-old West Australian would join legends including Greg Norman (1985), Peter Thomson (1967) and Kel Nagle (1959) and become only the seventh player to pull off the Australian Open-PGA double.

Greg Chalmers (2011), Robert Allenby (2005) and Peter Lonard (2004) have also achieved the rare feat.

“If I win, I win and last week was last week,” Lee shrugged.

“I played great then, so hopefully I can finish it off tomorrow. I know there’s a lot of history to it, but it’s just another tournament.

“If it goes well, it goes well.”

The co-leaders hold a one-shot buffer over Englishman Alex Fitzpatrick, the younger brother of 2022 US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick, who carded a 66 on Saturday, and American Patrick Rodgers (68).

Lee’s fellow Australian Lucas Herbert is just two strokes off the pace in outright fifth after a moving-day 66, with the rest of the chasing pack at least four behind.

Lee is undoubtedly the favourite after overcoming some early wobbles and keeping it together without his A-game.

He dunked a ball in the water en route to a nasty double-bogey six on the par-4 third.

The blemish opened the door for his pursuers, only for Lee to post successive birdies on five and six to regain control of the championship.

After finishing runner-up to Lee at Royal Queensland, Hoshino continued his own hot summer run to wrestle the clubhouse lead with a steely 65.

The chilled-out Japanese was bogey-free and steadily climbed the leaderboard with four birdies and an eagle on the par-5 14th.

“Last week I couldn’t make the birdie on the back nine, but this week I have more birdies at the back nine to make the winning (possible),” Hoshino said before Lee joined him in the final group with his rousing birdie at the last. 

“This is the first time in Australia for me and I’m enjoying this atmosphere and also this tournament. That’s why I’m playing well.”

Lucas Herbert at the 2023 Australian Open.
 Lucas Herbert is in outright fifth after a third round 66 left him two strokes off the pace. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS 

Lee isn’t the only home hope in serious contention.

US PGA Tour star Herbert was delighted after rising to fifth and closing with a birdie after chalking up a double-bogey at the last on Friday when he signed for a 69 at The Lakes.

“I played well enough in the first nine holes yesterday to probably put that score up, but the back nine was a serious challenge,” Herbert said.

“I was just holding on for dear life and unfortunately lost the battle with one hole to go yesterday.

“I’m somewhere near it … I’m a chance.”

Cameron Smith’s chances of winning the Open for a first time look slim, with the 2022 British Open champion back in a tie for 25th at six under, and seven shots behind, after a round of 69.