Min Woo Lee will renew a junior rivalry more than a decade old in his quest to win a maiden Fortinet Australian PGA Championship at Royal Queensland Golf Club on Sunday.
On a day in which enormous galleries flooded the fairways to witness his dream pairing with Adam Scott, the 25-year-old West Australian used an up-and-down for birdie from left of the green at the pivotal par-4 12th to come home in 3-under 32 for a round of 5-under 66.
His 17-under total puts Lee within reach of the 72-hole tournament record of 22-under par and three strokes clear of Japan’s Rikuya Hoshino (64) and fellow West Australian Curtis Luck (66).
Although Luck is two years Lee’s senior, the pair played countless junior events together growing up in Perth.
Although Luck’s path to the final group on the Sunday of a major Australian championship has been more circuitous, Lee admitted that such a prospect was always part of the plan.
“We obviously didn’t dream about this… we did dream about it, but it came pretty quick,” said Lee, who has three professional wins to his name.
“We played junior stuff every week back in the day.
“We both have potential to be the best players in the world so I wouldn’t put it (playing in the final group together) past us.
“A really, really good friend and hopefully we can both play good.”
Winner of the 2016 WA Open as an amateur – Lee finished tied 52nd – Luck has recent form on a Sunday to call upon.
In September, he shot 66 in the final round to finish second at the Korn Ferry Tour’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship – a tournament he won in 2020.
The 27-year-old will need all that and more to pull back the four-shot head-start he is affording his former junior adversary but, given his bogey-free round on Saturday, will start the final round full of belief.
“I could have shot, I feel like 8 or 9 (under) today, so absolutely not,” Luck responded when asked whether he was too far back.
“Man, I hit it close a lot out there. I had a lot of putts seem to go over the edge and it was kind of similar yesterday.
“I feel like I played very, very well today.”
The only player to win the US Amateur and Asia-Pacific Amateur in the same year, Luck’s professional progression has stalled at times.
A Sunday showdown with one of the hottest young players in world golf might be just what Luck needs to turn his fortunes around.
“I think we all knew that he was going to be good. He’s always been a bit of a stud,” Luck said.
“I’ve just been dealing with the ebbs and flows of golf. Had a couple of rough years and seems to be coming back up again.
“I’ve definitely played events where everything’s looked great, so I’m just going to obviously back myself off that experience and just try and get out there tomorrow and hopefully get it done.”
With established stars such as Adam Scott (71), Marc Leishman (67) and Cam Davis (68) all at least six strokes back, the greatest threat to a West Aussie win looms in the form of Japan’s Rikuya Hoshino.
Ranked No.138 in the world, Hoshino has won five times on the Japan Golf Tour since 2018 but had not seen anything like the par-3 17th party hole at Royal Queensland.
“It was the most exciting moment of my life,” said Hoshino, who had six birdies in a back nine of 6-under 29 on Saturday.
“It is my first time to visit Australia and the atmosphere at 17 is great.”
Hoshino’s 7-under 64 was the equal best round of the day, matched by Scotland’s Connor Syme and Kiwi Michael Hendry, who made a four-footer for par on Friday to squeeze inside the cut-line and will now start the final round in a tie for 14th.