South Korean Lee Kyoung-hoon defied rain, wind and a weather delay to fire a six-under par 66 on Sunday to win PGA Tour Byron Nelson by three strokes and book a PGA Championship berth.
Lee had eight birdies in his six-under effort at TPC Craig Ranch in the Dallas suburb of McKinney, Texas, his 25-under par total of 263 putting him three clear of American Sam Burns.
“I can’t believe it,” said Lee, who has four professional wins on the Japan Tour and AsiaOne tour, but whose previous best finish on the US tour was his share of second at the Phoenix Open earlier this year.
The victory saw him grab the final spot in next week’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, the second men’s major championship of 2021.
Lee started the day one stroke behind Burns, who was gunning for a second tour title after winning the Valspar Championship two weeks ago.
As Burns struggled to build momentum — playing the front nine in even par with two bogeys and two birdies — Lee surged to the top of the leaderboard with birdies at the second, third and fourth.
Lee spun a wedge in to four feet for birdie at the sixth and stuck his approach within three feet for birdie at the ninth before an errant tee shot led to a bogey at the ninth.
He added a four-foot birdie at the 12th and had a three-shot lead when lightning halted play on a day that had already seen the field slog through often heavy rain and blustery winds.
When play resumed more than two hours later, Lee was facing a 16-foot par putt at the 16th. He ended up with a bogey, but he birdied the last two holes to seal the victory.
“Very hard conditions for everybody today,” said Lee, who rolled in a four-foot birdie putt at the par-three 17th and reached the green of the par-five 18th in two.
“I tried to stay patient and keep playing positive. I didn’t want to look at the leaderboard, just tried to (play) my golf.”
After he rolled his eagle attempt from 39 feet to within a foot of the cup and tapped in for his closing birdie, Lee got a congratulatory hug from South Korean golf icon KJ Choi and a hug from his wife.
“So excited,” said Lee, who said he had often imagined how he would celebrate a longed-for US PGA Tour victory but said that when the time came he “almost forgot everything.”
– ‘Awesome’ Lee –
Burns captured solo second with his four-foot birdie at 18, capping a two-under par 70 for a 22-under total of 266.
“I think the biggest thing for me is just knowing my game is in a good place,” Burns said. “It’s in a good spot enough to where I can contend. So that’s cool for me, just to see some results for some of the stuff I been working on back home.”
He called Lee’s performance in the difficult conditions “awesome.”
“When it was tough he hung in there and he got off to a great start,” Burns said. “It was kind of gettable in the beginning. (Lee) got off to a really fast start, and then kind of midway through got tough for everybody, and he kept hitting one shot after the next and never gave anybody a chance.”
South African Charl Schwartzel, who played in the final group alongside Lee and Burns, got up and down for birdie from a greenside bunker at 18 to cap his 68 and join a group sharing third on 267 that also included Americans Patton Kizzire, Daniel Berger and Scott Stallings.