Danny Lee takes a four-shot lead in Rex Hospital Open

chip.alexander@newsobserver.comJune 22, 2013 

— Everyone was taking dead aim Saturday in the Rex Hospital Open.

Jim Renner had a hole-in-one. Michael Putnam made back-to-back eagles. Chesson Hadley holed out a tough wedge shot for eagle, and every player, it seemed, was firing at the pin at the 18th hole.

Danny Lee didn't have any spectacular shots in the third round of the Web.com Tour event at Wakefield Plantation. What Lee did have was eight birdies, including a chip-in at the 10th hole and a tap-in at the 18th, for a no-stress, 8-under 63 that pushed him into a four-shot lead.

"I shot 8-under, what could go wrong?" Lee said, smiling. "Hitting it good, putting good."

Sounds simple enough. Lee, who was born in South Korea, hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation in closing at 17-under 196.

Andrew Putnam and Edward Loar were tied for second at 13-under 200 -- Putnam after a 66 and Loar a 67. Michael Putnam, Andrew's older brother and the tour's leading money winner, and Raleigh's Chesson Hadley were at 12-under 201.

Renner created a stir with his ace, holing a 5-iron shot from 201 yards at the 12th hole. But the cheers never died.

Michael Putnam, bidding for his third win of the year, holed a wedge shot from 100 yards for eagle at the par-4 third hole, then knocked in a 20-foot eagle putt at the par-5 fourth.

"I don't know that I've ever had two eagles in a row," Putnam said.

The former Pepperdine All-America nearly had a third. His tee shot at the par-3 fifth hole landed just short of the cup and rolled four feet past. Putnam made birdie, then another birdie at the sixth -- that's 2-3-2-3 on the scorecard -- as he shot 65.

Hadley, in contrast, took a one-shot lead into the third round and promptly bogeyed the first two holes. He bounced back with two straight birdies, but double-bogeyed the par-4 10th hole after a poor shot.

"I was planning my post-round misery speech on hole 13," he said.

But at the 15th, Hadley holed out from 40 yards out of the rough -- "The sexiest little flop," he said -- for an eagle 3. He followed with a 30-foot birdie putt at the par-3 16th, then knocked it tight at the 18th for a birdie and 2-under 69.

"That's how golf goes," Hadley said. "It has a mind of its own. It just kicks you around whichever way it wants you to go."

Lee is just 22 but has been kicked around the past few years. In 2008, he became the youngest player to win the U.S. Amateur. A year later, after capturing the Johnnie Walker Classic in Australia as an amateur, he was the youngest winner on the European Tour.

Some called him the "next Tiger Woods" and Lee didn't object. But the past four years have produced more lows than highs.

"I think I didn't know what I was doing back then," he said. "I was just playing golf and they gave me the trophy. But playing professional golf the past four years, it's a long journey."

Lee, whose family moved to New Zealand when he was 8, did win two years ago on the Web.com Tour -- the WNB Golf Classic. He won enough money to get on the PGA Tour in 2012 but couldn't stay there, and missed regaining his tour card by one shot at the Qualifying Tournament.

"The last couple of years it wasn't fun," Lee said. "It was fun traveling all over the place and playing with all the best players in the world, but it could have been better if I played like this.

"You can't change the past. I'll just look forward and will keep playing harder. Just have fun and not think too much."

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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