Lee wins Johnnie Walker

2009-02-22 18:04

Perth - U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee of New Zealand birdied the final two holes and four of his last six for a 5-under-par 67 and a one-stroke victory Sunday in the Johnnie Walker Classic.

The 18-year-old Lee first pulled level with Japan's Hiroyuki Fujita, who had finished two groups ahead of him, and then moved ahead of Fujita with a birdie on the par-5 18th on The Vines composite course.

Lee finished with a 72-hole total of 17-under 271. Fujita (67) was tied for second with Chile's Felipe Aguilar (68), and third round co-leader Ross McGowan of England (70) in the tournament sanctioned by the European, Asian and Australasian tours.

"It feels like I'm dreaming at the moment," Lee said. "I won lots of amateur tournaments before and the U.S. Amateur, but this is a totally different feeling.

"It's a pro event. All I wanted to do is make the cut and play well and get in the top 20. But I played extremely well today, and I won it."

The second-place finishers all shared in the $298,000 that Lee would have collected if he was not an amateur.

Raphael Jacquelin of France (69) and England's John Bickerton (71), who shared the third-round lead with McGowan, were tied for fifth, two strokes back of Lee.

Lee is the first amateur to win on the Australasian PGA Tour since Brett Rumford claimed the 1999 ANZ Players Championship at Royal Queensland. The last amateur winner of a European tour event was Pablo Martin at the 2007 Portuguese Open.

Rarely showing emotion on the golf course, Lee pumped his arms briskly when a 15-footer on 17 went in for birdie. On 18, a hole he had birdied in the previous three rounds, his approach left him with about a 40-footer for eagle.

Lee twirled around in the air when long putt for a 3 lipped out and curled about a foot away. When he made his winning birdie putt, he again pumped his arms in celebration.

Born in South Korea, Lee, who moved to New Zealand when he was eight, said earlier in the tournament that he plans to play the U.S. Masters as an amateur, then turn professional a week later.

That decision will be made easier with the knowledge that he'll have a three-year exemption -- the rest of this year, 2010 and 2011 -- on the European, Asian and Australasian tours.

It was also back-to-back New Zealand victories in the Classic, after Mark Brown won in India last year.

New Zealand Golf chief Bill MacGowan said Lee would be a major drawcard when he plays in the New Zealand Open at The Hills in Queenstown from March 12-15.

"There's been only one 18-year-old who has won the New Zealand Open in its 90-year history and that's Sir Bob Charles," MacGowan said. "Danny, I am sure, will be confident that he can emulate that feat."

The final round Sunday came on Australia's national day of mourning for the more than 200 people who died in bushfires around Melbourne on Feb. 7. Early during the final round, the air-horn that would usually warn golfers off the course if there is an approaching thunderstorm sounded three times.

All golfers, caddies and officials stopped on the course and took off their caps for a minute's silence.