Words: Paul Prendergast
Photo: Mark Wilson – Golfplus Media.
With a round to play, there’s a stark difference in the makeup of the leaderboard for each of the men’s and women’s fields at the 2023 ISPS HANDA Australian Open.
On the men’s side of the ledger, overnight leader Min Woo Lee has reminded the field that he is indeed human after his feats over the past week and a half. Playing with a lead in your national championship is never comfortable and the pack has certainly caught the Western Australian on the traditional ‘moving day’ of championship golf.
Japan’s Rikuya Hoshino, a familiar face to Lee from last week’s Australian PGA shootout at Royal Queensland, shot 65 on Saturday to post 13-under par to secure another Sunday final group pairing after the latter holed out from several metres on the final green for an up-and-down round of one-under 70.
They take a one-stroke lead over visitors Patrick Rodgers and Alex Fitzpatrick at 12-under with Victorian Lucas Herbert another shot back at 11-under.
On the women’s side, defending champion Ashley Buhai has set the pace to lead by three strokes from Jiyai Shin, with Australian Minjee Lee the next best at five–under after shooting a round of 67 that could have been anything heading into the back nine.
The South African has been quick to note how much she loves coming to this country after first visiting as a 13-year old for the Jack Newton Junior tournament in the Hunter. However, she can’t have loved coming here anymore than she has these past two years with the form she has displayed so far this week and in winning the 2022 Open in Melbourne.
She was at her consistent best on Saturday to post 67 for a 12-under total, three ahead of Shin who missed a short birdie putt on the final green to narrow the gap.
However, those chasing the leaders on the final day need not look too far back to recent history of men’s Australian Opens at The Australian to find comfort in the knowledge that low rounds can be out there on a Sunday.
Since the latest Jack Nicklaus-remodel ahead of the 2014 Australian Open, there have been some phenomenal low final round scores posted by the eventual winners and chasers, headlined by Jordan Spieth’s amazing 63 in 2014 in what has been described as the best final round played in men’s Australian Open history.
The following year saw the first of local member Matt Jones’ two Australian Open wins but not before Queensland veteran Rod Pampling annihilated the golf course with a 10-under 61 in conditions that were not entirely conducive to low scoring.
Then in 2017, another local member in Cameron Davis scythed through the field from well behind the overnight lead, clinching victory from a chasing pack that included Jones and Jason Day to claim the Stonehaven Cup before he had secured his playing rights on any tour outside of Australia.
With 17 players within five of the lead on the men’s side – including Adam Scott, Joaquin Niemann, Sean Crocker and Matt Jones – and Minjee Lee having overcome the same seven-shot deficit she faces tomorrow to win her first major championship, the leaders should not be sleeping blissfully thinking they have only a handful of contenders to deal with.
Recently history certainly points to another Sunday filled with fireworks at The Australian in front of what are sure to be a continuation of the enormous and vocal Sydney crowds that have flocked to the championship this week.