Momentum has been a rare commodity at Royal Wellington the past two days, but Min Woo Lee found a bountiful load today, right in the nick of time.
The Australian took the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship halfway lead in the most dramatic style today, finishing birdie-birdie-eagle to card a three-under-par 68 almost from nowhere.
It gave the West Australian a seven-under total and one-shot buffer over Chinese youngster Lin Yuxin, who himself has finished in a blaze of glory by holing out from 80m for eagle hours earlier to reach six under.
But it wasn’t a patch on Lee’s last-minute heroics.
After looking furious in missing a short par putt on the 15th on another testing afternoon of swirling winds on New Zealand’s North Island, Lee vented in the best possible manner.
“On the 16th tee, I thought to myself, `Just hit a solid shot’. It was 170m straight into the wind and I hit a nice 5-iron to about eight feet and it got me going a bit,” Lee said.
“Then I hit an awesome drive on (the 325m par-four) 17 and got in greenside and had a simple chip and putt.
“Then the eagle on the last hole – it just clicked into place. Hopefully I can follow it up tomorrow.”
Awesome on 17 was an understatement. The drive, into the wind, drew a collective gasp from the gallery and trickled to the front fringe from where the little bump shot sat right on the edge.
Another beast of a drive down the last was followed by a 7-iron from the first cut of rough to the top right corner of a heavily sloping green.
The Australian Amateur runner-up raised the putter in triumph as his 20m curler was 3m out and the crowd roared again at what had been a stunning 15 minutes of power golf.
Minutes earlier, Shae Wools-Cobb, Lee’s roommate and overnight leader, made his own birdie on the final hole to cap a trying round that left him in third at five under.
The Queenslander’s 74 was a far cry from his opening 63, but he had a horrendous run of bounces and bad breaks early in his back nine, so was understandably happy to stay right in contention.
“A few things didn’t go my way out there, so it was probably a good score all things considered,” Wools-Cobb said.
“I was happy to finish like that … hopefully it turn a bit tomorrow.”
Three other Aussies are well in contention, too, with Harrison Endycott joining the red-figure fray with his own closing birdie for an even-par 71 to join fellow New South Welshman Travis Smyth at one under overall.
They trail state teammate Dylan Perry who carded an impressive 69 to reach two under and was arguably the most consistent of the Aussie contingent today.
And his score could easily have been better had he had any luck on the greens.
Having started his round on the 10th, Perry nipped a couple of immaculate approach shots to set up birdies on the 12th and 13th holes, the latter almost going down for eagle before settling 5cm behind the cup.
But he came even closer on 16th when his sweetly struck five-iron rolled towards the pin but broke left in the last 50cm only to horseshoe out, preventing what would have been his first ace.
“It was tracking the whole way and caught a chunk of the hole and went to a foot, so I’m still waiting for that hole-in-one,” Perry said.
“That time is still coming. I saw it bounce out of the hole, anyway, another time.”
Perry had several other golden chances, but couldn’t quite find the love with his putter.
“It was much more solid today and I hit a lot more greens.
“I pitched it pretty well from 100m in, so I’ll take that confidence into tomorrow and hope the putts can drop as well.
“I’m quite happy with where I am, so game on.”
Smyth had similar troubles with his putter, making just three birdies in his even-par 71, one of those a two-putt and another from a chip-in with his 50-degree wedge.
“It’s frustrating, but I’m still around where you can win this from, so hopefully I can get it going over the weekend,” said Smyth, who took penalties after losing a ball on the 12th (his 3rd hole) and later in the water on the 4th, both time making great putts to save further damage and hitting back with birdies straight away.
“I was pretty happy to just minimise that damage … it could have been ugly, so it shows I can make a putt.
“But I need to drop a couple for birdie and get it rolling tomorrow.”
Charlie Dann was another whose ball-striking improved more markedly than his even-par 71 would indicate.
The affable Queenslander safely made the cut at three over, but again could have been higher up the leaderboard had his blade co-operated.
“I hit a lot of close shots today and I just couldn’t seem to read the greens,” Dann said.
“I hit a lot of good putts and they just didn’t fall, but it was a good solid round of golf.”