MIDLAND, Texas – Early Friday afternoon Danny Lee thought he might miss the cut at the WNB Golf Classic. A little more than 24 hours later, the South Korean-born Lee finds himself with a two-stroke lead after 54 holes and in position to become the first player in Web.com Tour history to successfully defend a title.
Lee earned his first Tour win a year ago at Midland Country Club and now stands one day away from winning again. He tacked a 7-under 65 onto his second-day 63 to get to 16-under-par 200, two better than Australian Cameron Percy (66) and Monday qualifier Morgan Hoffmann (70), the 36-hole leader.
Jamie Lovemark (69) is four off the pace while Aaron Goldberg (66) and Luke Guthrie (66), winner of last week’s Albertsons Boise Open, are five back.
“I lost three balls out there, hit a couple in the bushes, had one unplayable lie and hit it in the water on 17 and made double,” said Lee of his first-round adventures that produce a score of 72. “I did good just to finish at even par.”
Lee opened with a bogey on his first hole in Round 2, but then turned on the birdie machine. He ripped off four birdies in a row starting at No. 2 and hasn’t looked back.
“I just got comfortable,” he said of his turnaround. “I hit it better. I putted it better. Somehow, every time I hit it on the green I can read the greens really nicely. I don’t know if it’s the green color, or it’s Midland, or I’m just having a good time.”
Lee is having a blast because he’s making everything he sees. He leads the field in putting and has chalked up a tournament-best 23 birdies thus far.
“It’s similar to the Four Seasons, where I practice,” said Lee, who moved to the Dallas area last year and plays at the TPC Las Colinas. “I can read the putts really well.”
Thanks in part to a playoff win here last year, Lee finished sixth on the Web.com Tour money list and earned playing status for the PGA Tour this year. His rookie season hasn’t been overly impressive and he has had to sit out the FedExCup playoffs, which are concluding in Atlanta this weekend.
In an effort to sharpen his game, Lee has made a couple starts on the Web.com Tour in preparation for the PGA Tour’s Fall Series.
“Every time I come to the Tour, it feels like I’m getting my confidence back,” he said. “I know what’s wrong. I’m working on that and starting to play better.”
Percy will join Lee in Sunday’s final twosome, provided he can catch his breath. The 38-year-old has been battling asthma this week and finds himself short of breath quite a bit.
“I’ve really been struggling,” he said in a hushed voice after his day. “It’s hard to speak when your heart is racing.”
Percy has let his game do the talking as he searches for his first win on American soil.
“I’ve just kept it in the fairway and had a few nice wedges where we had some good numbers,” he whispered. “I hit a few close, too. I really like this course. You shoot 68 or 66 and it means something.”
Percy is also fighting the stress of being in the top 25 as the season winds down. The 25 leading money winners after the Tour Championship next month will earn PGA Tour cards for 2013.
“I got to about $180,000 six weeks ago and everyone said not to worry,” said Percy, who peaked at No. 8 in late July. “Since then I was sick one week and missed three cuts in a row by a shot. Everyone who’s around my number has been playing really well, so it’s been pretty stressful the last week or two.”
Percy has fallen to No. 16 on the money list now and needs a solid Sunday to possibly lock up a spot for next year.
Hoffmann, meantime, is just hoping for a place to play next week. The former Oklahoma State All-American has no status on any tour yet, but that could all change on Sunday.
He remained in contention despite an erratic driver that had him scrambling for a 2-under 70.
“That was the craziest day I’ve had in a long time. I was everywhere,” he said. “I don’t even remember the last fairway I hit.”
For the record, Hoffmann hit only five on the day, the last one coming at No. 14, which also happened to be the only fairway he hit on the back nine.
“I’m still in it. This was just a day you put behind you,” he said. “This is golf. It’s not the same every single day and it’s unfortunate that it can’t be. When you have these kinds of days you have to go out and trust your ability.”
Rookie Adam Long registered the second hole-in-one in two days when he aced the 188-yard 16th hole en route to a 7-under 65.
‘I was trying to hit about a 180 (yard) shot and hit a little 6-iron. It was right on the flag the whole way,” he said. “The truth is that I was trying to go a little right of the flag to be a little safe but I pulled it, but pulled it right of the hole. I knew the bunkers were out of play. It was enough club to get over the bunkers and it was just a matter of where it was going to land. It ended up perfect obviously. Dead center of the pin.”
The ace was the fourth of the year for Long and his second in competition. His first hole-in-one in 2012 came while vacationing with his family at Hilton Head, S.C. A week later he had another one during a practice round in Santiago, Chile. His third came in the third round of the Mylan Classic three weeks ago.
Long and Luke Guthrie have both made holes-in-one this week. This is the first time in the tournament’s 21-year history there has been more than one ace in a single year.
--Danny Lee will be trying to become the first player in Web.com Tour history to successfully defend a title. Ten players have managed to win the same event twice, but none did it in back-to-back years. The best defense of a title belongs to Michael Clark II, who won the 1996 Puget Sound Open and came back the next year and lost in a playoff to Kevin Johnson.
--Lee has made 11 cuts in 22 starts on the PGA Tour this year. He has a pair of top-25 finishes and is No. 169 on the money list. Lee finished No. 6 on the 2011 Web.com Tour money list and earned his PGA TOUR card for the 2012 season.
--Over the years, only nine of 20 WNB Golf Classic champions (including Danny Lee) have returned the following year to try and defend their title. Of the previous eight who came back, only two made the 36-hole cut – Franklin Langham, 1993 winner, tied for 26th in 1994; Charley Hoffman, 2004 winner, tied for 63rd in 2005. There have been four past winners who have never returned to play in this event – Chad Campbell (2001), Brandt Snedeker (2006), Marc Leishman (2008) and Garrett Willis (2009).
--Tim Petrovic opened the back nine with six birdies on his first seven holes. He wound up with a bogey-free 6-under 66. His score of 6-under 30 ties the lowest 9-hole score on the back nine since the tournament moved to Midland CC in 2002.
--First-round co-leader Aaron Goldberg also closed with a 6-under 30 on the back nine to tie the tournament mark. Goldberg is 11-under and tied for fifth.
--Luke Guthrie, winner of last week’s Albertsons Boise Open, bogeyed his final hole for a 5-under 67. Guthrie is at 11-under 205 and tied for fifth.
--Morgan Hoffman will be trying to become the 21st Monday Qualifier in the Tour’s 23-year history to win a tournament. The last Monday Qualifier to win on Tour was Ted Potter Jr. at the 2011 South Georgia Classic.
--The Web.com Tour moves to east next week for the Chiquita Classic in suburban Charlotte, N.C. The tournament will be held at the Club at Longview in Weddington, moving there after being held near Cincinnati the past two years. Last year Russell Knox cruised to a three-stroke win at TPC River’s Bend, finishing at 25 under par for his first career title.