Lee Soo-min of South Korea yesterday surprised even himself with a dazzling putting display to snatch a three-stroke edge heading into the final round of the inaugural Maybank Championship Malaysia.
Lee shot a seven-under-par 64 to leapfrog 36-hole leader Nathan Holman of Australia and pre-tournament favorite Danny Willett of England.
Lee, 22, finished 15-under-par, three shots ahead of Marcus Fraser of Australia, who finished the day with a five-under 66 at the par-71 Royal Selangor Golf Club.
Playing in just his second European Tour event, Lee rolled in nine birdies, including four straight on the back nine when he insists he was merely trying to get it close, only to watch the putts drop.
If Lee can hold today to win the US$3 million tournament, which is cosanctioned by the European and Asian Tours, it would be his maiden triumph outside of South Korea.
While Lee thrived, the stifling 33oC heat seemed to sap other key contenders.
Holman, the recent Australian PGA champion, had established himself as the man to beat in Malaysia with an impressive tee-to-green game the first two days.
However, the 24-year-old long-hitter struggled yesterday, dropping four shots by the 11th.
A late surge brought Holman to within a stroke of Lee, but he stumbled into the clubhouse with a triple-bogey on 18 after sailing a fairway bunker shot into a pond.
He finished with a third-round 73 and goes into the final day four strokes behind Lee.
Masahiro Kawamura of Japan, Miguel Tabuena of the Philippines and Spain’s Jorge Campillo were locked in a tie for fourth at 10-under.
Willett had entered as the field’s highest-ranked player at world No. 13, and was favored following a victory two weeks ago in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and other strong recent finishes.
His fine play lately has catapulted him up golf’s world rankings in recent months and a win in Malaysia would push him past Sweden’s Henrik Stenson to first in the Race to Dubai rankings, according to the European Tour.
That might have to wait, as yesterday he posted a disappointing two-over 73, leaving him nine shots off Lee’s pace.
Taiwan’s Hsieh Chi-hsien finished tied for 62nd along with four others after carding a three-over 74 for a three-round total 214.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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