GRANITEVILLE, S.C. – Australian Min Woo Lee has seen this movie before, and quite frankly, he is working to re-write the ending.
Thanks to birdies on three of the final four holes, Lee (71-65, 136) carded the low round of the tournament, a 7-under 65, and leads the 2017 Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Golf Club by a single shot after two rounds.
Joaquin Niemann (67-70) of Chile and Garrett Barber (71-66) of Stuart, Florida share second place with two-day totals of 137. They’re a shot back. Davis Shore (71-68) of Knoxville, Tennessee and Denmark’s John Axelsen (73-66) are both three shots off the pace at 139.
Lee has been in the hunt at Sage Valley before. With momentum on his side and on the verge of forcing a playoff last year, Lee was the victim of Austin Eckroat’s outstanding winning birdie on the final hole, which was essentially an up-and-down from the rough, 235 yards out.
That’s one reason why Lee is here. To change the ending and emerge from last year’s near miss.
“This is the best junior golf tournament in the world,” said Lee. “So, I’ve had a good mentality going in and now I am in good form. Last year happened, but it is definitely great to be in the leaderboard and have a good chance to win tomorrow.”
Lee opened on Thursday with a pedestrian 71, but an early eagle Friday on the par-5 4th hole today triggered an impressive run. Birdies on 8, 10, and 13 put him in position and muted his only blemish of the day, a bogey on the par-4 14th hole.
That’s when Lee’s unveiled his closing scene: three straight birdies on holes 15-17. As he was tapping in for par on 18, Niemann’s string of 34 consecutive bogeyless holes was ending, along with his perch atop the leaderboard.
Niemann, who shared the lead with Australia’s Cameron John after the first round,
birdied Sage Valley’s picturesque first hole for the second time in as many days, this time via a chip-in. Niemann recorded 6 straight pars, methodical golf at its best, but it allowed various challengers to emerge.
Adrien Pendaries eagled the par-5 8th to pull even with Niemann. However, the Frenchman quickly fell off with a double bogey-bogey sequence on the 13th and 14th holes.
Next up was John, who tied things with a birdie on No. 10, a par-5. Niemann birdied 11 and John bogeyed 13 for a two-shot swing. John’s double bogey one hole later, on No. 14, created further separation.
When Niemann added two more birdies, this time on 15 and 16, he seemed to be in not only coasting, but in total command.
As Lee offered his late charge, Niemann blinked for the first time in two days, hitting his tee shot on No. 17 in the water, then compounding the problem by trying to play it out. The harsh end-result was triple-bogey 7 and the aforementioned lost lead.
“I was playing really relaxed, good golf, hitting it straight and making some putts,” Niemann lamented. “Other than 17, it was a really good day.”
Lee and Niemann will be paired together, along with Barber, for Saturday’s final round with a prized Junior Invitational Gold Jacket on the line.
“He’s (Niemann) a good friend of mine, so we will go out, have some fun and see what happens,” said Lee.
The 54-hole Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Golf Club is widely recognized as one of the premier junior tournaments in the world. The prestigious event attracts many of the game’s top-ranked junior golfers on an annual basis.