Europe might have been mostly zeroed in on soccer on Sunday, but those who weren’t tuned into golf missed a thrilling pre-Open Championship teaser, where 22-year-old Australian Min Woo Lee won a three-man playoff at the Scottish Open over Thomas Detry and Matt Fitzpatrick.
Until today, Lee was perhaps better known as the brother of recent world No. 1 women’s golfer (currently No. 14) Minjee Lee, but with a second career European Tour victory, he now becomes one to watch at next week’s Open Championship at Royal St. George’s in England.
And this was not your typical European Tour outing either. Five of the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking were on hand at The Renaissance Club in Scotland, hoping to get some momentum as the last major of the PGA Tour season commences next Thursday.
Lee came into the final round three strokes out of the lead, hoping to at least put together the kind of round that would make that Open Championship the first major start of his young career. He did even better, shooting a 7-under 64 to finish regulation tied with Detry and Fitzpatrick.
PGA Tour fans were likely thinking “not again” as the last two weeks in the U.S. have resulted in a combined 13 holes of playoff golf, but Lee needed just one extra hole to claim the victory.
It was the third straight year that the Scottish Open needed extra holes.
Scoring was low on Sunday at The Renaissance, and the only player in the field to score lower than Lee was European Ryder Cup legend Ian Poulter, who shot an 8-under 63 on the final day to set the clubhouse low score for the leaders to hit. Lee only beat it by one, shooting his 7 under just one day after a 6-under 65, and on a very crowded leaderboard, he put himself out front late, with both Detry and Fitzpatrick needing to finish birdie-par-par to join him in extra holes.
The extra time before the playoff was of most benefit to Lee, who clinched the title after sinking a nine-foot birdie putt on the only playoff hole.
In addition to beginning the final round three strokes behind both world No. 100 Detry and world No. 23 Fitzpatrick, Lee also had to figure out a way to get past world No. 1 Jon Rahm, who was making his professional golf debut as a major champion, having won the U.S. Open last month.
In his last start prior, he had accumulated a six-stroke lead through 54 holes at The Memorial, before being forced to withdraw with a positive COVID-19 test. Rahm played his final 17 holes bogey-free, but it was not enough to finish out front. At 16-under, the 26-year-old Spaniard finished in solo-seventh.
Finishing just a stroke out of the playoff was Poulter, in addition to American Ryan Palmer, and red-hot Australian Lucas Herbert, who won last week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
How Min Woo Lee Won The Scottish Open
Lee announced his presence to the difficult field when he birdied six consecutive holes on the front nine (Nos. 3-8). He played his final ten holes at a bogey-free 1-under to keep himself out front and in the mix.
Lee’s 65-64 weekend was an improvement on his opening of 68-69, which had him three stokes behind at the 36-hole mark.
Lee rebounded from a triple-bogey 7 on the par-4 11th hole on Thursday, and carded just one bogey over the entire weekend. His previous victory on the European Tour came in February of 2020 at the ISPS Handa Vic Open, an event heavily attended by fellow Aussies. This win, though, really put him on the map as it’s one of the European Tour’s most elite titles.
What It Means For Min Woo Lee
It certainly provides some momentum for Lee. He came into the week ranked 240th in the OWGR. From last October until February’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am – his PGA Tour debut, Lee had missed six consecutive cuts.
Even since then, he had not been exactly tearing it up, but he had made five of six cuts, with three of those results being in the top 30. His best was just last week, where he finished T17 at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, his best result since a T11 at the ISPS Handa UK Championship last August.
Lee will not be among the betting favorites at next week’s Open Championship, the final major of the 2021 PGA Tour season, but he at least got himself on the map, a place he really was not before.
Other Sunday Stars
Poulter’s 63 matched the low round for the week in Scotland, and again had his name in the conversation at a key tournament. He has found his way onto the first page of the leaderboard at a number of PGA Tour events as of late, giving hope that the 45-year-old Englishman can finally nab that first career major championship.
Poulter has finished in the top 10 of eight majors in his career, but none since he was T6 at the 2015 Masters.
A 65 was a promising Sunday score for world No. 3 Justin Thomas, who finished tied for eighth at 15-under par. The former PGA Championship winner had been in a slump since winning THE PLAYERS Championship in March, with this being his first top 10 in nine starts since.
Matching the 65 of Thomas was England’s Richard Bland, a 48-year-old who set a record last month when he became the oldest player to hold at least a share of the 36-hole lead at the U.S. Open.
Bland has also recorded a win, a T3, and a T4 in his last four worldwide starts. At Renaissance, Bland was able to finish T15.
Among the Scottish contingency in the Scottish Open field, Richie Ramsay finished best, as his 12-under for the week was good for a share of 15th, but he moderately underwhelming on the final day of the event, shooting a pedestrian 2-under 69 to drop to T8.
The 38-year-old three-time European Tour winner opened his back nine with a pair of bogeys to effectively take himself out of the mix.
Lee Westwood, the 48-year-old Brit, is desperately in need of a major victory as his window appears to be closing fast. Unfortunately for him, Sunday was not a great day, as a 1-over 72 dropped him 27 spots into a share of 35th place.
The man who finished runner-up in a pair of back-to-back PGA Tour events earlier this year went 71-72 over the weekend and likely is not feeling his best going into the Open Championship, where he has finished in the top 10 six times without a win.
Sunday was a disaster for France’s Victor Perez, who had just one birdie in a 4-over 75 that plummeted him 51 spots down the final leaderboard from T8 to T59.
The other three players to shoot a field-worst 75 on Sunday finished in the last three positions on the leaderboard.
“I flushed it all weekend and flushed it all today. I just needed to kind of stay in the moment. I hit a lot of shots on command today and yesterday, and you know, I just chilled out next to the fireplace while I was waiting.
“You knew they made par on the 18th hole of regulation, and then wout and there and did my thing. It was nice.
“I mean, it just felt good. I did feel nervous, but more confident if anything.”
– Min Woo Lee, Scottish Open Champion