BENTON HARBOR, Mich. (Aug. 1, 2008)--New Zealand’s Danny Lee saved his best for last Friday, scorching Point O’Woods Golf & C.C. with a 6-under-par 64 in the final round to edge Erik Flores for medalist honors in the 2008 Western Amateur.
Lee, 18, from Rotorua, New Zealand, and Flores, 21, of Grass Valley, California, head the list of 16 qualifiers for the championship’s stretch run – the Sweet 16 match play competition Saturday and Sunday to decide the champion of the 106th Western Amateur. Lee’s 72-hole total of 12-under-par 268 lifted him to a three-stroke edge over Flores, who ended at 271.
“It’s really special. It’s amazing,” said Lee, whose name will be etched on the Cameron Eddy Medalist Trophy alongside such names as Phil Mickleson, Scott Verplank, Mark O’Meara, Curtis Strange, Ben Crenshaw and Tom Watson. “This is the first time I’ve played really well in a United States tournament.”
A winner of the 2007 New Zealand Amateur and a semifinalist in the 2008 Australian Amateur, Lee has been building an impressive international resume.
Flores, a senior at NCAA Champion UCLA, played in a twosome with Lee for Friday’s 36-hole stroke play marathon, pressing the medalist far into the final 18 holes.
“I was pretty nervous for awhile,” Lee said. “I kept hitting good shots, and he kept getting up and down from incredible places. I was hitting it really well and was comfortable with what I was doing. I just kept focusing on my game.”
Both players started the day 3 under par and matched 3-under-par 67s in the third round Friday morning. In the final 18, Lee forged a two-stroke lead on the short par 4 eighth hole, driving the green and sinking a 5-foot putt for an eagle.
“I was just trying to get to the edge of the bunker (in front of the green) but I got a really nice kick,” explained Lee, whose ball rolled onto the green while the group in front of him was still putting out. Flores answered with a birdie to stay within two strokes, and a bogey by Lee on the ninth moved Flores back to within a shot.
Lee’s birdie on the par 4, 421-yard 16th, matched with a bogey by Flores, secured medalist honors for Lee.
‘I wasn’t thinking about medalist,” said Lee. “My goal was to get to match play.”
For Flores, Friday’s head-to-head battle with Lee was close to match play.
“I think we both fed off each other,” said Flores, a two-time NCAA All-American at UCLA. “It was good to watch somebody step up in front of you and hit fairways, hit greens.”
Flores also worked some magic on the greens, making some timely putts to keep the pressure on Lee.
“I had two par putts from outside 15 fee in the final round, so that helped,” said Flores. “It was a pretty good battle for awhile.”
Tied for third at 7-under-par 273 were Victor Dubuisson, 18, of Mougins, France, and Joey Benedetti, 23, of Newport Beach, Calif.
Dubuisson and fellow Frenchman, Alexandre Kaleka, are playing in three amateur events in the United States after a heavy European schedule this spring and summer.
“This is the most difficult and most beautiful course I’ve ever played,” said Dubuisson. “We don’t play on this type of courses in Europe. It’s all links courses. Very different.”
Benedetti, a University of Oregon graduate, has only played in one other amateur on the national circuit this summer.
“I just got out of summer school this past two week,” he said. “I’ve been playing well, I just haven’t been playing in any tournaments. I played really solid the entire day today and made a lot of putts. That’s what you have to do out here.”
Saturday’s first-round matches begin at 8 a.m. Following are the pairings:
8:00 a.m. – Danny Lee vs. Daniel Woltman
8:10 a.m. – Philip Francis vs. Morgan Hoffman
8:20 a.m. – Joey Benedetti vs. Gregor Main
8:30 a.m. – Kyle Stanley vs. Conrad Shindler
8:40 a.m. – Erik Flores vs. Jason Kang
8:50 a.m. – Lucas Lee vs. Jude Eustaquio
9:00 a.m. – Victor Dubuisson vs. Jhonattan Vegas
9:10 a.m. – Rory Hie vs. Sihwan Kim