Korea’s K.H. Lee stayed off the bogey train for a second successive day as he moved to within one stroke of leader Sam Burns at the AT&T Byron Nelson on Saturday.
Chasing his first PGA TOUR victory, Lee produced a gutsy 5-under 67 at TPC Craig Ranch, thanks largely to five birdies over his closing 10 holes which saw him narrow the gap on Burns after starting the day three back. More importantly, the 29-year old is now bogey-free over his last 43 holes since his only dropped shot at the 11th on Thursday.
Four of Lee’s gains in the third round were from inside of eight feet after yet another impressive display with his irons. He rolled in a 30-footer on 15 for his longest birdie putt and closed out his round in style by splashing an exquisite 30-yard bunker shot from the greenside to inside of four feet for his final birdie of the day.
A win on Sunday will make Lee the fourth Asian winner at the AT&T Byron Nelson following victories by Shigeki Maruyama (2002), Sangmoon Bae (2013) and Sung Kang (2019). It will also earn him a spot in next week’s PGA Championship, the year’s second major, at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course.
“We have more holes, 18 holes, so never think about win. No pressure (on) myself and just keep positive and play golf and then we see, yeah,” said Lee, who is seeking his first victory in his 80th TOUR start.
Burns is the man in form as he won his first PGA TOUR title two weeks ago at the Valspar Championship but behind him and Lee are proven winners in Charles Schwartzel (66), Matt Kurchar (66), Alex Noren (70) and local favourite Jordan Spieth (66), who are all three off the pace in tied third place.
Lee’s best finish on TOUR is a tied second at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February and he can also draw from the experience of winning twice each on the Japan Golf Tour and Korean Tour which he won his national Open back-to-back in 2015 and 2016.
The Korean has looked composed through three rounds at TPC Craig Ranch, which is hosting the AT&T Byron Nelson for the first time. “Today same like yesterday, like iron shot very good and putting also, so very feel comfortable. And, yeah, very happy now,” said Lee, who currently ranks 84th on the FedExCup points list.
Burns, who cemented his rising star status with a win a fortnight ago, is trying to become only the third player with multiple titles during the 2020-21 season, joining Bryson DeChambeau (U.S. Open, Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard) and Stewart Cink (Fortinet Championship, RBC Heritage). He birdied the 18th hole to ensure he retained a slender lead on 20-under.
After making 10 birdies in the second round, Burns had five in the third round to earn his fourth 54-hole lead on TOUR. He failed to clinch the deal at the 2019 Vivint Houston Open and The Genesis Invitational earlier this year before enjoying his breakthrough at the Valspar, which taught him an important lesson.
“I don’t have to play perfect,” he said. “(I) always felt for a long time I had to play perfect on Sunday to win. That’s just not the case. You’re going to make mistakes. You need to limit those.”
The final round tee times have been brought forward from due to rain being forecasted in the area in the afternoon, with the final grouping of Burns, Lee and Schwartzel teeing off at 9.01am local time (CST).
Third-Round Notes – Saturday, May 15, 2021
Sam Burns 65-62-69—196 (-20)
K.H. Lee 65-65-67—197 (-19)
Charl Schwartzel 65-68-66—199 (-17)
Matt Kuchar 67-66-66—199 (-17)
Jordan Spieth 63-70-66—199 (-17)
Alex Noren 65-64-70—199 (-17)