Thirteen birdies. Two eagles. One thriller.
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Min Woo Lee beat Sahith Theegala in an exciting match Wednesday
Written by Cameron Morfit @CMorfitPGATOUR
AUSTIN, Texas – Murli Theegala whooped so loudly as his son Sahith birdied the par-3 fourth that Col Swatton, covering the match for PGA TOUR LIVE, nearly jumped out of his shoes.
Min Woo Lee responded at the short, par-4 fifth hole with a sensational 365-yard drive that stopped 46 feet from the pin. Then Lee made the big-breaking eagle putt to tie it up again.
The best match in Round One of the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play featured a combined 13 birdies and two eagles. Lee, 1-down with two to play, coaxed his birdie putt in the side door on 17, Theegala missed from 5 feet, and Lee birdied again on 18 to win, 1 up.
“I mean, it was a highlight reel all day,” said Lee, 24, who holed a bunker shot to birdie the par-3 seventh and chipped in at the par-4 10th. “It sucked that one of us had to win and one of us had to lose. It was such a special match. No one got to 2-up, no one got to 2-down; it was back and forth. He had it in the palm of his hand, I had it pretty close, and then it just flipped so quick.”
Min Woo Lee holes 34-foot bunker shot at WGC-Dell Match Play
Although they are at different points in their careers – Theegala made the 30-man TOUR Championship last season; Lee is still trying to get a PGA TOUR card – these two are close in age and had seen each other before. Theegala beat Lee in a tight contest to capture the 2017 Sahalee Players Championship, an amateur tournament in Washington state.
That day, Lee hit a 150-yard slice around a tree that stopped 40 feet from the pin and Theegala called “one of the greatest shots I’ve ever seen in my life.” Undaunted, Theegala birdied the hole, their first in a sudden-death playoff, to win.
The tables were turned at Austin Country Club on Wednesday, and it was hard to pick the most jaw-dropping shot. Despite Lee’s two hole-outs and his driving of the fifth green, it might have been his 224-yard second shot from the fairway bunker at the par-5 12th hole. His ball stopped just 5 feet from the pin for what turned out to be a conceded eagle.
Both players are young and fearless, and both make tons of birdies, so on paper this was an intriguing matchup. They didn’t disappoint, and neither did the ending. It looked like Theegala was in control, already 1-up as he sized up a 5-foot birdie putt on 17. But when Lee birdied from 12 feet, and Theegala missed, it was up for grabs again.
Lee’s up-and-down from the front bunker at the short, par-4 18th, and his final birdie putt from just inside three feet, ended it.
Min Woo Lee wins match against Sahith Theegala with bunker save at WGC-Dell Match Play
“Oh, I was nervous on the 18th hole,” said Lee, who would earn Special Temporary Membership on the PGA TOUR if he makes it out of his group Friday. “…The bunker shot was – it wasn't the hardest shot, but I'm glad it was on the upslope, and I could get a little bit of elevation, but you've still got to go up and hit the shot. I was nervous.”
Theegala could not convert from 17 feet behind the hole, and Lee’s final birdie, from 2 feet, 10 inches, sealed it.
“That short putt, I was nervous,” said Lee, who finished T6 at THE PLAYERS Championship after playing alongside eventual winner Scottie Scheffler in Sunday’s final group. “We haven’t really hit that many short putts today because we give it to each other. … It was back and forth all day, and it was such a good match. I think it would be one of the best rounds all day, and it sucked that one of us had to (lose). But it was wonderful, and that's what you want in match play. We both played really well.”
Lee is set to play U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick, a first-round loser to J.J. Spaun, on Thursday. Theegala, looking to rebound after a match neither man deserved to lose, will take on Spaun.
J.J. Spaun holes out from 107-yards for eagle and goes 3 up at WGC-Dell Match Play
Cameron Morfit is a Staff Writer for the PGA TOUR. He has covered rodeo, arm-wrestling, and snowmobile hill climb in addition to a lot of golf. Follow Cameron Morfit on Twitter.