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Min Woo Lee co-leads Australian Open in bid for Aussie double

ISPS HANDA Australian Open - Day 3

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 02: Min Woo Lee of Australia acknowledges the crowd after making a Birdie on the 18th green during the ISPS HANDA Australian Open at The Australian Golf Course on December 02, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

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SYDNEY — Min Woo Lee made a dramatic birdie on the 18th hole to keep his bid of winning back-to-back titles on track despite a challenging day in the third round of the Australian Open on Saturday.

Lee produced a trademark dazzling chip from the bunker and then rolled in for birdie on the par-5 18th to move back to the top of the leaderboard at 13 under with Japan’s Rikuya Hoshino.

The 25-year-old Western Australian’s adventurous day included four birdies, a bogey and a double bogey for a round of 70 which included a number of shots from difficult lies in fairway rough or bunkers at The Australian course.

In contrast, Hoshino — who finished runner-up to Lee at last week’s Australian PGA Championship — was bogey-free and steadily climbed the leaderboard with four birdies and an eagle on the par-5 14th in a round of 65.

“Last week I couldn’t make the birdie on the back nine, but this week I have more birdies at the back nine to make the winning (possible),” Hoshino said. “This is the first time in Australia for me and I’m enjoying this atmosphere and also this tournament. That’s why I’m playing well.”

Lee and Hoshino hold a one-shot lead over Englishman Alex Fitzpatrick (66) and American Patrick Rodgers (68), who are in a tie for third.

Australian Lucas Herbert is fifth at 11 under after a 66 at the Sydney tournament that features men’s and women’s fields and is being played on a two-venue format.

Joaquin Niemann (70) of Chile is in a tie for sixth at 9 under, while Adam Scott made up ground with a 67 to be at 8 under and five shots off the pace.

Cam Smith’s chances of a maiden Australian Open title look increasingly slim. The 2022 Open champion is well back in a tie for 25th at 6 under, and seven shots behind, after a round of 69.

Defending champion Ashleigh Buhai of South Africa led the women’s field at 12 under, three shots clear of two-time major winner Jiyai Shin and seven shots ahead of Australia’s Minjee Lee, the older sister of Min Woo Lee.

Buhai birdied her first four holes on her way to a 67 as she bids to be the first woman to defend the Australian Open titles since Taiwan’s former world No.1 and five-time major champion Yani Tseng in 2011.

Shin had a mixed day with an even par 72, while Lee put a disappointing second round behind her with a 67 to surge up the leaderboard.

“I just hit my irons a little bit closer and that just gave myself a couple more opportunities for birdies,” Lee said. “So yeah, had a really nice front nine and made one bogey and one birdie on the back. I’ll just have to post a really low score tomorrow, I think, but I can do it.”

Teenage amateur Ann Jang, from Sydney, made the shot of the day with a rare albatross at the par-5 first hole, but still finished with a 73 and in a tie for 22nd at 4 over.