21-year-old Perth professional Min Woo Lee, and 32-year-old Korean Hee Young Park have taken out the Men’s and Women’s titles at the 2020 ISPS Handa Vic Open.
Lee, from Royal Fremantle, was greeted with a hug from his sister, Minjee, after he birdied the 72nd hole to win by two shots from New Zealand’s Ryan Fox, having started the day with a three-shot lead.
Minjee Lee, who is in the top 10 on the women’s world rankings, previously won the Vic Open in 2014 and 2018. She finished tied-sixth, but at one point threatened to make it a dual Lee victory before fading late. Their mother Clara, and grandmother Angela, were in the crowd jumping between holes to watch the siblings.
Min Woo played sensational golf for a fourth consecutive day, starting with three birdies in his first four holes and ultimately carding a four-under-par 68.
“Yeah, my sister and I winning the same tournament, it’s pretty special,” he said. “I’ve got bragging rights now, so it’s even better.’’
Minjee had completed her final round and was able to watch the finish with her family. “It’s pretty cool, being able to watch,” she said.
A former US junior champion, Min Woo earns a two-year European Tour exemption as a result, and can pick and choose where and when he plays.
He won $183,000 and planned on buying his first car. “I use my sister’s car back home and that’s pretty good, but I might have a top off from that.”
Fox made it tough for him, scorching around 13th Beach in an incredible 64 that he called the best round of his life, and eagling the last hole to get within a shot of Lee, who had bogeyed the 17th. But the Perth wunderkind gathered himself, hit a safe four iron off the 18th tee and then a brilliant nine iron to the fringe of the green at the 18th, and walked up to the green knowing that he had it in the bag.
He had an eagle putt to put the exclamation mark on it, but ultimately tapped in for birdie and his first professional win. “It’s been so special with the crowd right behind us.”
Fox’s round had to be seen to be believed, including two eagles and four birdies and not a single bogey, incredible golf in the howling winds. “It’s comfortably the best round I’ve had in a tournament,” he said.
Frenchman Robin Sciot-Siegrist, New South Welshman Travis Smyth and Marcus Fraser were tied third at 14-under.
“The thing that stands out is he doesn’t have a weakness,’’ said Fraser. “I think he’s got a great head on his shoulders, which is probably the most important thing. I think he’s got the mind of a 40-year-old out there, someone who’s been out there for a long time. He’ll be a top-10 player in the world at some point, it’s just a matter of when he gets there, I think.”
Queenslander Jed Morgan was the leading amateur, shooting a final-round 70 to finish tied-seventh.
In the Women’s competition, South Korean Hee Young Park overcame a three-way all-Korean playoff to capture the title.
It took four holes for the 32-year-old to beat compatriots, Hye-Jin Choi and So Yeon Ryu.
The quasi-Australian So Yeon Ryu dropped out at the second hole when she found the greenside bunker with her second shot and failed to get up and down, after all three players birdied it the first time around.
Then Choi drove it right off the tee at the fourth playoff hole, into deep mulga and blocked out by a tree. Her first attempt to move the ball resulted in it shifting only a few metres. The next ploughed into the swampland left of the hole, and once they reached the green, the pair wanted to end it by mutual consent, until a Golf Australia rules official pointed out that Park needed to hole out.
She eventually won with a par, having birdied the 18th in regulation and in the first three playoff holes, and having missed an eagle putt to finish it in the first playoff hole.
It was an extraordinary finishing day, with the scoring average up at 74.1, two-over par. The strong winds saw many players stumble in the conditions, notably overnight leader Ayean Cho of Korea, who shot a catastrophic 81 to slump to tied-16th.
Choi, the 2017 Australian Amateur champion, carded a brilliant closing 69 to post the clubhouse lead at eight-under par, then Park joined her when she birdied the 18th. Ryu, a former world No. 1, only needed to birdie the last to win in regulation, but she hooked her drive into the marshland, in what she said was “my only regret’’ from the final day.
In the end, Ryu scrambled a par so that the three Koreans all reached the playoff, back down the 18th, where the wind howled from behind them and made it effectively a par-four. Birdie would be needed; they all knew that.
All three birdied it on the first playoff hole, with Ryu having to get up and down from behind the green. It would have gone no further had Park holed her eagle putt from just three metres, but she missed. “Too nervous,” she said later.
At the second, Ryu found the greenside trap, could only manage par, and dropped out. Choi and Park both birdied to extend it, then birdied again at the third. Then at the fourth, the younger Choi unravelled.
For Park, it was a significant victory. A 13-year LPGA Tour player who has been ranked inside the top 20, she played so poorly last year that she went back to qualifying school, only at the insistence of her husband, JooJong-Joe. She finished second in the qualifying and the rest is history. Previously coached by Australian Steve Bann, she said she always felt comfortable playing Down Under.
“I was going to stop golf, but that meaning very inspired me and then very payback to my family and husband, and then I think this is pay back for everything,” she said. “And I’m getting old compared to other Korean girls on the LPGA and they keep grinding. Because I made it, I won the event, and I just giving back to inspire to other young golfers.’’
Ireland’s Leona Maguire and Sweden’s Linnea Strom were closest at seven-under par.
A trio of Australians, Minjee Lee (73), Su Oh (68) and Robyn Choi (71) were tied-sixth at six-under par.
Photo and writeups via Golf Australia