The glare of a crowd drawn by the presence of two major champions elicited some “rookie errors” but both Adam Scott and Stewart Cink have praised the way blossoming Aussie youngster Min Woo Lee fought back to finish the first round of the Australian PGA Championship just one off the lead.
Paired with Scott and Cink in the marquee group of the afternoon, Lee admitted to some early nerves as he made a bogey at the opening hole and dropped to 2-over when he gave up another shot at the par-4 fourth hole.
The 21-year-old made three consecutive birdies around the turn and added two more at 12 and 15 to end the day one shot behind joint leaders Lucas Herbert and Brett Rankin who set the early mark at 5-under par.
The longest driver in his rookie season on the European Tour this year with an average of 320.48 yards, it was his ability to compose himself after a difficult start that drew the greatest praise from 2013 Masters champion Scott.
“That’s what I liked most,” Scott said. “He’s got a pretty swing and hits it a long way but it was good to see him compose himself.
“He hung in there for a few holes after his poor start and then he composed himself and got on a bit of a roll there nicely.
“They’re good qualities to see out there because it was easy for it to really get away from you today if you just were a little bit off.”
The Open champion at Turnberry in 2009, Cink dropped shots at each of the final two holes to fall to 2-under on his round and was similarly impressed by the way Lee was able to turn his fortunes mid-round.
“That was impressive, to see a young player tidy himself up and move in the right direction,” Cink said.
“But no surprise, I could see from the first shot that the guy’s got an amazing swing and plenty of power.
“The sky’s the limit for him. Just looks like he’s got all the tools. And he’s young.
“I think it would be exciting to be Min Woo Lee.”
Out of sync early on, Lee said that it was putts at the fifth and sixth holes that allowed him to swing momentum in the right direction, momentum he can carry into Friday courtesy of two crucial up-and-downs at the 17th and 18th holes.
“Just a bit rushed early on, didn’t hole many putts, didn’t hit good shots,” Lee offered.
“But I’m a bit of a fighter, so it was nice to start off bad and then come off good.
“I holed a putt early on the par 3 and then I holed another 10-footer on the hole after and made those two really good putts. It could have been 3-over pretty easy but I brought it back to 1-under (by the turn) and I think those were the turning points.
“Early on I didn’t really take the opportunities because there’s a big crowd and I’m not really used to it, but it’s massive, finishing the round 4-under rather than 1 or 2-under.
“It was pretty calm this morning so hopefully tomorrow morning you can go out there and shoot a low score.”
Narrowly missing out on retaining full playing privileges on the European Tour by finishing seven spots outside the cut-off, Lee is under no illusions about the importance of performing well in the co-sanctioned event this week.
“It’s massive,” said Lee, who finished 117th on the Race to Dubai rankings.
“I know you’ve got to start off pretty well and this is one of the first tournaments so it will be nice to have a good result.”