K.H. Lee produced a glorious eagle, birdie finish to stay in contention at the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Saturday.
A third successive 5-under 66 at TPC Scottsdale moved the gutsy Korean into a share of third place but standing between him and a career first PGA TOUR victory are two of the game’s leading stars, Xander Schauffele (65) and back-in-form, Jordan Spieth (61) who co-lead the PGA TOUR tournament on 18-under 195.
Lee, 29, enjoyed the rub of the green in front of some 5,000 fans, the first time this year an event has allowed limited spectators in attendance. He holed a bunker shot on the sixth, drained a 28-foot birdie putt on eight, converted a routine two-putt birdie on 15 before delivering a grandstand finish by chipping in from 40 yards for an eagle two on 17 when and knocking home an 11-footer on 18. His lone bogey came on the 10th hole.
Playing in his third season on TOUR after graduating from the Korn Ferry Tour, Lee hopes to become the second Korean in three weeks to win on TOUR following Si Woo Kim’s triumph at The American Express, and only the second Asian golfer after Hideki Matsuyama of Japan (2016 & 2017) to taste victory at TPC Scottsdale.
It took a par save on the second hole to spark Lee’s round. “I missed the fairway on two and it was not a good start but I managed to save par. That helped me not to lose momentum and kept me going,” said Lee, who has three career top-10s, including a T5 at the 2019 RSM Classic as his best solo performance.
“I did not expect that shot to go in (for eagle) on 17. I had a good lie and I just felt good standing over the shot. After hitting the chip, it took a bounce and I thought it had a chance of going in. After It went in, I felt great … It gave me a lot of excitement and more energy which led to my birdie on 18. It is great to finish eagle, birdie. I am three shots behind and I think I have a chance if I can keep my head down and play my own game.”
World No. 4 Schauffele, chasing a fifth TOUR victory and his first in over two years, birdied four of his closing six holes to retain his overnight lead alongside Spieth, who fired a career best 10 birdies to tie his low career round. Spieth has 11 wins on TOUR but has not won since 2017.
When holding the lead/co-lead after 54 holes, Spieth has won nine times in 16 previous occasions, with the last being The Open Championship in 2017.
Spieth, 27, said: “I expect myself to be extremely nervous. I’ve been there a lot of times, but it’s been a long time. So I imagine I’ll be very uncomfortable at least to start, but a lot times I kind of like that sometimes. You know, it kind of almost makes you really play a little safer early and just get into the round. I’m looking forward to just staying the course, trusting it. I have no expectations on the results tomorrow. I really don’t.”
Since his last victory in January 2019, Schauffele, ranked sixth on the FedExCup points list, has posted seven runner-up finishes including two this season, most recently at last week’s Farmers Insurance Open in his hometown of San Diego. He knows patience is key to victory.
“I just need to get off to a better start. I think I can take some pressure off myself if I do that. Obviously 18 holes left of this tournament, and today I was worried. I got off to a bad start and I knew I had more than 18 holes so that kept me calm. No matter what happens tomorrow, if I can just stay patient, I’m playing good enough golf to make up poor shots and kind of collect my thoughts. It’ll be fun. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Si Woo Kim (70), Sungaje Im (68), Hideki Matsuyama (69) and Satoshi Kodaira (68) will enter the final round in a share of 36th position on 207 while Byeong Hun An carded a 70 to lie a further stroke back. Xinjun Zhang of China signed for a 73 for T64.
T1 Jordan Spieth 67-67-61—195 (-18)
T1 Xander Schauffele 66-64-65—195 (-18)
T3 Scottie Scheffler 67-65-66—198 (-15)
T3 Kyoung-Hun Lee 66-66-66—198 (-15)