Korea’s K.H. Lee joined golf legends Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson as the only golfers to successfully defend the AT&T Byron Nelson after a career best 9-under 63 on Sunday earned him a thrilling one-stroke victory over hometown hero Jordan Spieth.
The 30-year-old Lee overcame a four-shot deficit at the start of the final round with seven birdies and one eagle to repeat as champion at TPC Craig Ranch. His winning aggregate of 26-under 262 was one lower than last year’s winning score which delivered his maiden PGA TOUR triumph.
Spieth, chasing his career 14th title, closed with a 67 while Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama ensured a strong Asian presence on the leaderboard with a stunning 62 pushing him up into a share of third place on 264 alongside overnight leader, Sebastian Munoz (69).
“It’s amazing feeling. So I can’t believe, still feels like dreaming, but last year and this year still make good memories,” said a delighted Lee, whose parents, wife and baby daughter were on the 18th greenside to celebrate his second PGA TOUR title.
The win was especially sweet the second time around, as just a month ago, Lee was struggling with his form following three successive missed cuts. Without a top-10 to his name this season, the Korean star went back to work with former swing coach Chris Mayson and mental trainer Jung Gu Reen since the start of last week. He also hired a new caddie, Dan Parratt who previously worked with countryman Byeong Hun An, and put an old putter back into his golf bag.
With the changes, he finished tied 25th at the Wells Fargo Championship last Sunday to halt his mini slump and then pulled off another stunner at TPC Craig Ranch which propelled him to 28th place on the latest FedExCup standings. The win also puts him in the frame for the International Team to play in the Presidents Cup in September.
“I have been struggling the last couple of month. I couldn’t find the right way to solve the problems, so I decide to go back to the times when I was good and comfortable. I switched back to old coach and got advice from my metal coach. That helped a lot. Then last week, I changed my putter to the 2-ball putter. Last year (before the win), I switched from 2-ball to blade and then won this tournament. I make a lot of putts this week, so, so happy. It is very interesting!” said Lee.
While he made a bucketful of birdies and an eagle on the par 5, 12th hole – Lee was 16-under on the par 5s all week – Lee acknowledged it was a crucial par save from 12 feet on the 17th hole, a par 3, which proved pivotal.
“Honestly, very nervous over there. I know it’s a very important putt to make a par. Jordan and a lot of guys coming just one behind and I know a lot of guys can make birdie at 18, so I needed to make the putt. It’s very difficult. I pray and then make the putt. Sometimes, like I need to believe in myself, but just need, Oh, God, like, please, pray,” said Lee.
Lee now finds himself in an exclusive club at the historic AT&T Byron Nelson tournament – a tournament which inaugurated in 1944 – where only Sam Snead (1957-58), Jack Nicklaus (1970-71) and Tom Watson (1978-80) have successfully repeated as champions.
With a second win under his belt, his stature in the U.S. and back home in Korea will certainly grow which is living up to his name. Lee’s father Sang Moo had previously explained his son’s full name, Kyoung-Hoon, means “Making a name for himself in Seoul.”
“I heard that. It’s amazing, I can’t believe it,” said Lee on becoming only the fourth player to successfully defend. “Just hopefully people remember my name, but, yeah, I try to play well more, so hopefully more will remember my name.”
Making his first start since a T14 finish in his defence at the Masters Tournament last month, Matsuyama posted his second lowest score on TOUR with his 62, courtesy of an eagle on 18, nine birdies and one bogey on the card. “It was a great way to finish and gives me some nice momentum moving into next week (PGA Championship). My confidence heading into the PGA feels a lot better, but I still have some work to do to pull everything together,” said the eight-time PGA TOUR winner.
Spieth needed to chip in for eagle on the last hole to force a play-off with Lee but missed. He tipped his cap to Lee, whom he had played alongside with in the opening two rounds.
“I hit just a shot that you don’t practice into the green (on 18) and I actually thought I just stuck it and I don’t know if I could have a thousand balls and hit it where I hit it,” said Spieth. “But I still had a chance, K.H. made a great par save on 17 and then went and hit the green in two on 18 and 2-putted. He shot 8- or 9-under. We had it blowing 15 to 18 (mph) on our last 10 or 11 holes, so that score this afternoon, especially the last closing stretch of holes is just a phenomenal score.”
Final-Round Notes – Sunday, May 15, 2022
Weather: Sunny. High of 96. Wind S 12-16 mph, gusting to 23 mph.
K.H. Lee 64-68-67-63—262 (-26)
Jordan Spieth 67-65-64-67—263 (-25)
Hideki Matsuyama 67-66-69-62—264 (-24)
Sebastian Munoz 60-69-66-69—264 (-24)