Planet Golf — 14 May 2021 by GW staff and news services
KH Lee wins first PGA title in Dallas

MCKINNEY, Texas — Pictures of K. H. Lee with his AT&T Byron Nelson trophy show a joyous man under a bright sky, utterly free of tumult.

Pictures tell only part of the truth. Lee was indeed happy, having won his first PGA TOUR title, 500 FedExCup points, exempt status through the 2022-23 TOUR season and entry into the game’s biggest events, starting with this week’s PGA Championship. But it came with considerable distress, including terrible weather for golf. Late in the final round, players had to be evacuated from TPC Craig Ranch for more than two hours, leaving Lee alone with his own thoughts, a two-shot lead and two holes remaining.

Which is exactly what the 29-year-old from South Korea did, of course, shortly after play resumed at 4:15 local time in North Texas.

Lee birdied the par-3 17th. He birdied the par-5 18th. He shot 6-under 66 on an afternoon when, at times, a predictable golf shot seemed about as realistic as kayaking down a fairway. Turns out both were entirely possible.

“Long day for me,” he said, “I think everybody.”

Playing with third-round leader Sam Burns, Lee took lead for good on the par-4 third. He widened it to two shots on the fourth, and that was as close as anyone would get to him.

Lee and others who started late played more than half of their rounds in conditions ranging from a springtime Texas shower to an abject monsoon. It was so heavy as Lee took his stance on the par-4 16th that his drive traveled a meager 233 yards, leaving him 245 to the hole.

That was as tense as the tournament got. The horn blew moments later at 1:52 p.m. and Lee bogeyed the hole when the suspension lifted, his lead now two but the skies now clear.

He widened it to the final margin with the birdies at Nos. 17 and 18, where he was greeted by a triple-decker corporate skybox and a round of cheers from the spectators inside.

“I (didn’t) want to look on the leaderboard,” Lee said. “I’m very excited and happy.”

Lee was an unlikely candidate to contend coming into the Nelson, his 23rd start of the season. Ranked 137th in the Official World Golf Ranking, he had made 14 cuts, but he ranked no better than 80th in any Strokes Gained category. Aside from a tie for second this year in Phoenix, Lee hadn’t contended seriously this season.

None of that mattered. He became the eighth player from South Korea to win on TOUR. He did it in his 80th start, in a metropolitan area where tens of thousands of Korean-Americans — estimates suggest as many as 80,000 — make their home. Lee also followed Sung Kang, another Korean-born TOUR player who lives in nearby Frisco, as the winner of the AT&T Byron Nelson. Kang did it in 2019, the last time the event was been played.

It was unclear what Lee planned to do next week before he survived a storm and triumphed on TOUR.

But he knew Sunday. His victory at the Nelson wasn’t his only first. He was on his way to the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island for his first PGA Championship.


McKINNEY, TX — Sam Burns still has the lead going into the final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson despite more magic on the 18th green from local favorite Jordan Spieth.

Now it’s a race to beat the weather in Texas in the final round with a good number of the players headed to the PGA Championship in South Carolina.

Burns shot a 3-under 69 for a one-stroke lead over K.H. Lee, who had a 67. Spieth, Matt Kuchar and Charl Schwartzel each shot 66 and were three strokes back along with Alex Noren, who shot 70.

The players will switch from twosomes back to threesomes going off the first and 10th tees soon after daybreak Sunday with heavy rain in the forecast. Without delays, the tournament will finish about four hours earlier than normal.

Spieth rolled in another eagle at the par-5 18th, this time a shorter, bending putt from the fringe behind the hole. This time it just trimmed his deficit after Spieth’s 55-footer up a hi8ll that splits the green gave him a share of the first-round lead.

The roar was the same, though, from the biggest gallery on the new course of his hometown event, the TCP Craig Ranch in McKinney, about 30 miles north of Dallas. It’s the third venue in the past four Nelsons.

“Once it got on the green, it looked good,” Spieth said. “Started the putter raise and I wasn’t positive it was going in because the angle it was coming in at. I wanted to do the no look to the crowd, but, I mean, it was a really cool moment.”

Seamus Power holed out on a 35-foot bunker shot on the par-4 15th for a 67 and was tied with 2017 U.S. Amateur winner Doc Redman at 16 under. Redman shot 69.

Scott Stallings and Harris English shot matching 63s after making the cut on the number at 6 under, a record low for the Nelson on a course that hosted Korn Ferry Tour Championships but looks overmatched against some of the game’s best.

Burns, trying to become first player since Camilo Villegas in 2008 to get his first two PGA Tour victories in consecutive events, had his first bogey of the tournament on No. 1 and another on the sixth hole. He missed an eagle by inches on 18.

Lee birdied four of his last seven holes and the South Korean briefly shared the lead with Burns before the Louisiana native tapped in for birdie on the final hole.

Spieth’s eagle was a boost after back-to-back bogeys stalled the momentum of six birdies over a nine-hole stretch for the three-time major winner who will be looking for the career grand slam next week.

Kuchar birdied five of the last seven holes on the front nine, and the 2011 Masters champion Schwartzel answered a bogey at 16 with consecutive birdies.

Stallings birdied six consecutive holes a day after shooting 71 in the second round, when allergy medication affected him badly enough for his caddy to ask, “You think we could break 80 today?”

Seeking his first win since 2014, Stallings made the turn at 2 under in the second round. The 36-year-old Tennessean had four straight birdies, made the cut on the number and has played 27 holes in 13 under.

“You’re way behind, you’re trying to give yourself as many birdie putts as you can,” said Stallings, who has just three top-three finishes in seven years since winning at Torrey Pines. “I didn’t know that I made six in a row.”

Sung Kang, the defending champion from 2019 before last year’s COVID-19 cancellation and the subsequent move to Craig Ranch after two years at the treeless links course Trinity Forest in Dallas, shot 72 to remain at 8 under.

Jon Rahm, the highest-ranked player in field at No. 3, is 11 under after a 68. Fifth-ranked Bryson DeChambeau, who played at nearby SMU, stayed at 7 under with a 72.


McKINNEY, Texas — Now that Sam Burns has figured out how to turn an early lead into a victory, it’s already time to try again.

Burns birdied six of his last eight holes Friday for a 10-under 62 and a two-stroke lead over Alex Noren at 17 under after the second round of the AT&T Byron Nelson.

Noren shot 64 to get to 15 under, and K.H. Lee had his second 65 to reach 14 under. Doc Redman bogeyed two of his last three holes for a 67 that left him 13 under.

J.J. Spaun was 12 under, following a first-round 63 that left him tied with Jordan Spieth with a 69. Spieth shot 70, leaving the local favorite in the group at 11 under that included Matt Kuchar and Charl Schwartzel.

Scoring went up overall along with the wind a day after the new home of the Nelson, the par-72 TPC Craig Ranch north of Dallas, surrendered 94 rounds in the 60s in its debut. That number dropped considerably in the second round.

The tougher conditions didn’t affect Burns, playing for the first time since his first PGA TOUR win two weeks ago at the Valspar Championship in Florida.

Before Burns won at Innisbrook, the 24-year-old Louisiana native who lives in East Texas had twice failed to convert 54-hole leads, in the Vivint Houston Open last fall and The Genesis Invitational at Riviera in February.

Now he has a TOUR-best five 36-hole leads this season after following a 65 with the lowest round of his career. Burns is trying to become the first to get his first two PGA TOUR victories in consecutive starts since Camilo Villegas in 2008.

“The biggest thing for me is just seeing the hard work that we put in it, start seeing results from that,” Burns said. “A lot of times you don’t know how long the results are going to take. It’s cool to see some feedback from the progress we’ve made back home and seeing it in tournament play as well.”

Already with a four-hole run of birdies on the back nine, Burns put his tee shot in the stadium setting of the par-3 17th inside 4 feet, then hit a short approach on the par-5 18th to 2 feet for birdie.

Another birdie came on the par-4 14th, when Burns laid up on the 318-yard hole while playing partner Bryson DeChambeau drove the green and two-putted for birdie for the second day in a row. Burns made a 17-footer.

DeChambeau, who played at nearby SMU and is one of three top-10 players in the field, had two late bogeys for a 68 to get to 7 under. Sung Kang, the 2019 winner and defending champion after last year’s cancellation, is 8 under after a 69.

Spieth didn’t make any putts beyond 12 feet a day after a 55-footer for eagle on the final hole pulled him even with Spaun.

Still, Spieth was in his best position in five years for a top-10 finish — or better — at the Nelson. That hasn’t happened in the decade since Spieth contended on Sunday as a 16-year-old amateur before tying for 16th.

Not only are Spieth’s thoughts on the best finish in his hometown event, the three-time major winner and others are peeking at next week’s PGA Championship on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in South Carolina.

“There is no reason for me not to trust everything I’m doing,” said Spieth, who ended a nearly four-year victory drought in San Antonio the week before finishing third at the Masters. “At this point, I’ve got an opportunity to contend here, and if I can get myself a chance on Sunday, that is the best prep for this tournament and also next week.”

Burns and Spieth already have spots in the PGA. Lee, who has never won on the PGA TOUR, doesn’t. A Nelson victory would put the 29-year-old South Korean in the field.

Hideki Matsuyama shot 70 and was right on the Nelson’s record-low cut line at 6 under in his first appearance since becoming the first Japanese winner at the Masters. Jon Rahm, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 3, shot 69 and was 7 under.

Masters runner-up Will Zalatoris, playing not far from where he grew up on a course he knows well, joined Matsuyama at 6 under. The 24-year-old birdied two of his last four holes for a 68.

The Nelson moved to TPC Craig Ranch after last year’s COVID-19 cancellation, which followed two years at Trinity Forest links course in Dallas. Before that, the Nelson spent more than 30 years at the Four Seasons resort in Irving.

TPC Craig Ranch’s debut coincided with Lee Westwood’s first appearance in either Dallas-area tournament. The 48-year-old Englishman, who hasn’t played Colonial in nearby Fort Worth, shot a 64 and was 9 under. Westwood wanted to see his daughter in Florida — and didn’t want to go into the PGA without having played in a month.

“I thought maybe, you know, try a new experience,” said Westwood, who opened his second round on the back nine and birdied five of the first six holes. “I don’t want to call it prep for next week, but I prefer to go into a major championship being competitive the week before.”


McKINNEY, Texas — Jordan Spieth had his longest stretch all day of mere pars — a whopping four holes — on the besieged new home course of the AT&T Byron Nelson when the local favorite stepped over a 55-foot eagle putt on the par-5 18th.

Nothing but the bottom of the cup, and a share of the first-round lead with J.J. Spaun at 9-under 63 on a nearly wind-less Thursday.

Spieth, Spaun and plenty of others had little trouble with TPC Craig Ranch north of Dallas. There were 132 players in the field of 156 under par, with 94 of those in the 60s on the third venue in the past four Nelsons.

“It’s a good golf course, but it’s playing about as easy as it can play,” said 2018 Nelson winner Aaron Wise, who was among four one shot off the lead. “We got a ton of rain the last two days and then perfect weather today and looks like tomorrow and Saturday as well, so it’s set up for scoring.”

Hideki Matsuyama sputtered on the front nine in his first appearance since becoming the first Japanese player to win the Masters, then stalled again after three straight birdies to start the back nine. He finished at 68.

“I really felt like a Masters champion because every hole, every hole, there was just a warm applause and welcome,” Matsuyama said through an interpreter. “It was really good to play as Masters champion.”

Sung Kang, the defending champion as the 2019 winner, shot a 67 on his home course. The South Korean player put his 234-yard approach on the par-5 ninth to 8 feet and made the eagle putt. He had four birdies and a bogey.

After last year’s COVID-19 cancellation, the Nelson returned to the suburbs at McKinney’s TPC Craig Ranch after two years at Trinity Forest, a treeless links course in Dallas. The Four Seasons resort in Irving was home for more than 30 years.

TPC Craig Ranch was the site of two Korn Ferry Tour Championships, but was little match for its first test at the higher level. Soft greens from recent rain and the calm conditions made for favorable scoring right from the start.

Rafa Cabrera Bello was the first to post 64, soon joined by Wise, still looking for his second career PGA TOUR victory three years after his first at the Nelson, and Doc Redman. Joseph Bramlett joined them from the afternoon pairings.

Sergio Garcia, who holed out from 52 yards for eagle on the par-4 sixth, was in a large group at 65.

Jon Rahm, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 3 after top-ranked Dustin Johnson withdrew because of a knee issue, birdied three of his first five holes but cooled off and finished at 68.

Like Matsuyama, Spieth was playing for the first time since the Masters, but because of a positive COVID-19 test instead of a trip home to Japan, where Matsuyama celebrated with the green jacket in his golf-loving country.

Spieth’s first bogey-free round out of 34 at the Nelson included a birdie on the par-5 12th when his 247-yard second shot from a bad lie in the rough rolled through the green to a hill on the fringe before coming back and settling 10 feet away.

Spieth missed that eagle putt, but not the next one. From the lower tier of the wide green on 18, he rolled the putt up the hill and in with the pin still in the cup, prompting a huge roar from a gallery following three Dallas-area players.

“I’m just trying to get to tap-in and cap off a good day, and I kind of started leaning because I thought it was going to miss left and it just kind of fell in the left side of the hole,” said Spieth, who has never finished in the top 10 after contending on Sunday as a 16-year-old amateur in 2010. “The roar was pretty electric.”

Brooks Koepka also was playing for the first time since the Masters, where he missed the cut less than a month after right knee surgery.

The four-time major winner says the knee is better, but it didn’t show in his return. Koepka had four birdies and three bogeys for a 71, at risk of missing the cut for the second time in six Nelson appearances.

Masters runner-up Will Zalatoris, who grew up not far from TPC Craig Ranch and has played it frequently, had similar troubles. The 24-year-old shot 70 a week after missing the cut at the Wells Fargo Championship. But he did match Spieth’s eagle on 18 with a more routine 15-footer moments later.

Spaun missed the cut in nine of his first 15 events this season before a tie for 18th at Quail Hollow last week. All of the nine birdie putts Spaun made were inside 7 feet as he hit 11 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens.

“It was a lot of searching,” said Spaun, still looking for his first PGA TOUR victory. “I feel like that’s something that us golfers kind of do too much of when things start to go wrong instead of just chalking it up to a bad week or couple weeks’ slump with the striking.”

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