Min Woo Lee thought he’d made it.
His birdie putt from 37 feet, 6 inches on TPC Sawgrass’ famous island green was tracking right toward the hole. The 24-year-old, mustached Australian started walking right to get a better look at the big breaker and then lifted his finger in the air, anticipating the putt to drop and send the surrounding thousands into a frenzy.
“I was going up there thinking and talking to my caddie like, how can I stop this,” Lee said. “And I managed to hit like 99% of a perfect putt. When I got on to the apex where it was going down, it was like inside left and it was looking so good, and it just crept right.”
When the putt slid by, Lee raised both hands in the air and groaned. Oh, what could have been.
“That would have been nice,” he added. “The roars would have been pretty crazy.”
The chants of his name – Wooo! Wooo! – were a welcomed consolation. Though Lee bogeyed the par-4 18th hole, missing his first putt from inside 10 feet all round, he still carded a 6-under 66 to earn a spot in Sunday’s final pairing alongside leader Scottie Scheffler, who at 14 under is two shots clear of Lee.
“I love playing in front of a crowd, and I love entertaining them,” said Lee, whose highlight of the day instead came on his opening hole, where he “thinned” a 55-degree wedge from 112 yards out and holed it for eagle.
“So, I hope they had a good show today.”
While Scheffler is the reigning Masters champion who can return to world No. 1 this week, Lee is no slouch. Like Scheffler, he is a former U.S. Junior Amateur champ, winning in 2016, three years after Scheffler. Lee also has lifted two trophies on the DP World Tour and last year, he played in all four majors for the first time.
This is his first Players Championship, however, and he barely squeaked in the field. After tying for 27th at the Honda Classic two weeks ago, Lee dropped from No. 47 to No. 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking, earning his ticket to TPC Sawgrass by the slimmest of margins.
Lee is thankful that the math fell his way.
“I mean it’s one of the biggest regular season events, and it’s obviously considered the fifth major, and it would have been guttering to come 51st in the ranking and not get in,” Lee said. “I think it ended up being one eighth of a shot with the ranking points. Things did favor in my way, and you got to make the most of it. Like I said, I wouldn’t have known that this course was really nice for me. I love to shape shots and hit good tee shots off the tees and, yeah, I really love playing here.”
With a decent chance now to lift the shiny gold man, Lee may end up loving Pete Dye’s gem even more come Sunday evening. That’s assuming, of course, he can track down the red-hot Scheffler, who is currently playing at a level where, in Lee’s words, “every player wants to be.”
Lee isn’t concerned with any potential intimidation or implications.
He just wants to put on a good show and produce a few roars.
“Tomorrow could be the biggest day of my life, but I’m going to go out there and have fun again,” Lee said. “It’s been the motto for the last three months. Not taking it too seriously. I like to have fun and interact with the fans when I can. Unlike others, you know, they’re very serious. So, yeah, I’m just out here enjoying my time, and like I said, I just crept into this tournament and making the most of it and soaking it all in.”