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Lee surges clear in front of giant crowd

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 7/02/2016
<p>Danny Lee</p> © Getty/Sam Greenwood

Danny Lee

New Zealand's Danny Lee has rocketed three shots clear with one round to play at the PGA Tour event Arizona in front of the largest one-day crowd in golf history.

The 25-year-old maintained his high standards at the Phoenix Open with a four-under 67 in his third round on Saturday, which followed rounds of 67 and 66, leaving him strongly placed to win a second Tour title.

He did so in front of an estimated 201,003 fans packing TPC Scottsdale Stadium Course. The mark beat the previous world mark of 189,722, at the same venue two years ago.

Lee says he has done his best to soak up the tournament, having played in front of a combined crowed of more than half a million through the first three days. He noted he's not getting the support of second-placed American Rickie Fowler.

"I'm just trying to enjoy myself and I am," Lee told reporters.

"It's so much fun out there, so many people just cheering for Rickie instead of me, unfortunately. But I'm having fun."

An early string of birdies powered Lee from second overnight into the lead and he had opened up a buffer by the end, on 13-under.

Japan's Hideki Matsuyama and world No.4 Fowler are both three shots back, with two more Americans - Bryce Molder and Boo Weekley another stroke back on nine-under.

If he hangs on, Lee will add to his maiden PGA title won last July, when he triumphed at the Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia.

That result helped Lee complete a breakthrough season in which his world ranking surged more than 150 places to inside the top 40. He finished ranked ninth on the PGA Tour's lucrative points race.

"Winning at the Greenbrier Classic gave me a lot of confidence," Lee said.

"It kind of taught me how to be on the top and what I need to work on and what it takes to win a golf tournament."

In Lee's previous three appearances at the Phoenix Open he has missed the cut, with his long game having struggled.

Mistakes have been rare this week and Lee has been particularly productive on the early holes.

Birdies on holes two to four on Saturday were nearly followed by another on the fifth when a brilliant bunker shot lipped out.

He sunk a 12m putt on the eighth hole before mixing two birdies with two bogeys on the back nine.

Lee has been solid but unspectacular in his first six tournaments of the 2016 season, with his world ranking having slipped slightly to 47th.

He withdrew from his first event with an injured finger but has since made six successive cuts and recorded one top-10 finish, in Florida in December.

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