News & Opinion

Kyoung-Hoon Lee earns PGA berth the hard way

Kyoung-Hoon Lee wins 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson
Kyoung-Hoon Lee enjoys his new status on the PGA Tour: a champion with a spot in this week’s PGA Championship.

South Korean wins AT&T Byron Nelson, earning final spot into this week’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course

Kyoung-Hoon Lee shrugged off a nearly 2½-hour weather delay with only three holes to play in the final round Sunday afternoon in McKinney, Texas, before winning his first PGA Tour title.

Lee shot 6-under 66 for a 25-under 263 total and three-stroke victory at the AT&T Byron Nelson, which was making its debut at TPC Craig Ranch in the suburbs north of Dallas.

The South Korean, making his 80th career start, earned $1.458 million from the $8.1 million purse and a berth in this week’s PGA Championship.

“Long time for me,” Lee said in halting English in a post-round CBS-TV interview, making a go of it on live TV though his interpreter stood by his side. “I tried patience and to stay positive.

“Still, I can’t believe it,” he said. “I need to learn English, but I am very, very thankful.”

K.J. Choi, a South Korean and longtime Texas resident, greeted Lee as he triumphantly exited the 18th green.

Lee, 29 and in his third year on the PGA Tour, graduated from the Tour in 2018. In 79 previous starts, his best finish had been a runner-up earlier this year to Brooks Koepka at the Phoenix Open. Entering the Nelson, Lee had made five consecutive cuts, though no result better than T-23 during that stretch.

He is a two-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour and a two-time winner of the Korea Open. He will be making only his third appearance in a major championship, after having missed the cut in two U.S. Opens, in 2014 and 2019.

Kyoung-Hoon Lee wins 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson
Kyoung-Hoon Lee weathers a final-round delay Sunday in the AT&T Byron Nelson at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas, to post his 1st victory on the PGA Tour.

Lee started the day one stroke behind playing competitor Sam Burns, an American who had won two weeks earlier at the Valspar Championship. Lee birdied five of his first eight holes to seize control. After steady rain pelted the leaders for most of the back nine, Lee stood 5 under for his round and faced a 16-foot par putt at the par-4 16th hole when lightning suspended play. When the weather and most of the standing water had cleared 2 hours and 23 minutes later, Lee came back and missed the putt, allowing Burns to draw to within two strokes with two holes to play. But Lee birdied the final two holes – with a 4-foot putt on the par-3 17th and a two-putt tap-in birdie on the par-5 18th – to win convincingly.

Burns holed a 4-foot birdie putt on the final hole to shoot 2-under 70 and take solo second at 22-under 266. Americans Daniel Berger (64), Patton Kizzire (63) and Scott Stallings (66) shared third place with South African Charl Schwartzel (68) at 21-under 267. (For scores, click here.)

Local favorite Jordan Spieth, a lifelong Dallas resident who played on Texas’ 2012 NCAA champions, faded into a tie for ninth with a final-round 71. Nonetheless, it was his first top-10 finish in 10 starts at the Byron Nelson and his seventh top-10 result in his past nine tournaments, including a victory six weeks ago at the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio.

Spieth, a three-time major champion who needs only the PGA's Wanamaker Trophy to complete the career Grand Slam, will be among the top storylines this week in South Carolina.

Sign up to receive the Morning Read newsletter, along with Where To Golf Next and The Equipment Insider.