High-flying Korean star K.H. Lee put himself in contention for a second PGA TOUR victory in a month after carding a splendid 5-under 67 to share the first round lead with five other golfers at the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday on Thursday.
Three weeks after successfully retaining his AT&T Byron Nelson title, the 30-year-old Lee marked his card with a hole-out eagle, five birdies and two bogeys at Muirfield Village to share the day’s honours with Cameron Young, Luke List, Cameron Smith, Mackenzie Hughes and Davis Riley.
“Today, great first nine, especially No. 9, make eagle. A lot of good momentum there. A couple of bogeys on No. 10 and 11 but on 15 and 16, I made good birdies,” said Lee, who is currently ranked 31st on the FedExCup standings.
Lee’s 67 equalled his lowest round at the US$12 million showpiece, which is hosted by legend Jack Nicklaus and is one of three elevated tournaments on the PGA TOUR. It is also the third time in his career he has held the 18-hole lead/co-lead.
Sungjae Im bounced back from an early blemish at the 13th hole, his fourth of the day, with three birdies en route to a 70 for joint 21st place while Si Woo Kim was further back with a 72. India’s Anirban Lahiri and C.T. Pan of Chinese Taipei battled to a 74 and 76 for T71 and T96 respectively.
With his game in full flow, thanks largely to a decision to start working again with former coach Chris Mayson since the start of last month, Lee began his round brilliantly with three birdies over his opening five holes – all from within nine feet – before rounding up a superb outward nine with a masterful eagle where he sank his 9-iron approach shot from 152 yards at the par-4 ninth hole.
Despite conceding two bogeys in succession after the turn, it did little to dampen Lee’s spirits as he made back-to-back birdies on the 15th and 16th holes from inside of six feet.
“The 9-iron (for eagle) feels really good when I hit it in the hole. It’s perfect,” smiled Lee, who was the joint 36-hole leader in his debut in 2019 where he eventually finished tied 37th. He knows he has his work cut out in his attempt to land a third PGA TOUR victory at the prestigious tournament. “This course is challenging (with) everything, like tee shots, second shot, putting, chipping. All-round, it will test a player. I tried to keep the momentum well and tried to put in more focus,” he said.
It was a day to forget for 2014 Memorial Tournament champion Hideki Matsuyama after the Japanese star was disqualified for using a non-conforming club, which violates the Equipment Standards Rule 4.c(3).
“Our committee became aware through some pictures that were posted that there may be a substance that has been painted on the face of one of Hideki’s clubs. Unfortunately, when we found out about it, Hideki was playing the second hole. He managed to use it off the first tee,” said Chief Referee Steve Rintoul.
Defending champion Patrick Cantlay opened with a 72, a score matched by World No. 2 Jon Rahm, who was leading the tournament last year through 54 holes before he had to withdraw due to a Covid-19 positive test.
First-Round Notes – Thursday, June 2, 2022
Weather: Mostly cloudy with lingering showers. Wind NW 7-12 mph. High of 71.
Cameron Young 67 (-5)
Luke List 67 (-5)
Cameron Smith 67 (-5)
K.H. Lee 67 (-5)
Mackenzie Hughes 67 (-5)
Davis Riley 67 (-5)