When Lee’s birdie putt from 25 feet vanished into the cup, fans hollered and applauded as the South Korean applied the finishing touches on the low round of the tournament. His 7-under-par 64 left him at 8 under overall and at the time within reach of a possible playoff.
Although he never got the opportunity to tee it up again after eventual winner Bill Haas separated himself from the field, Lee was all smiles coming out of the scoring trailer after a card that included six birdies on the front side and par saves at Nos. 16 and 17 that kept the round intact.
Lee ended up tied for third place, four shots behind Haas, for his second top-10 finish this season.
“For me to win, I know it would have taken a very low score for me to do that,” Lee said through an interpreter. “But to be able to play the front nine the way I did and the way I finished it off, I think that was important.”
To reach the PGA Tour, Lee also closed impressively during the qualifying tournament last year, making birdies over his final three holes to hold off Ross Fisher and Steve LeBrun. He birdied four of his final five holes to earn his card and become the first South Korean to win the qualifying tournament.
Lee’s torrid start Sunday began with a birdie at No. 2 followed by five consecutive birdies from Nos. 4 through 8. He made the turn two shots behind Haas but stalled momentarily with bogeys at Nos. 10 and 11.
A birdie at 12 re-energized his round.
“When I got to the back nine, I pretty much said this is a new start, a new beginning,” Lee said, “because at all the big tournaments, the tournament really starts on the back nine, so just having that mind-set and not really worrying about anything else, I think that’s what I was feeling.”
Lee found trouble off the tee at the par-5 16th, putting his drive into the left primary rough. His second shot settled in the intermediate rough, but Lee managed to get back on the fairway before landing his approach within nine feet and sinking the putt.
Lee made a six-footer to save par at the 17th following a delicate chip from the fringe, setting up a closing hole to cap a weekend that included a bit of a fuss Saturday on No. 12.
The former pilot in the South Korean air force hit a poor shot there, and television cameras captured Lee, 26, waving his middle finger moments later as he watched his ball come to rest. Initial reports suggested a spectator may have heckled Lee, prompting the gesture, but Lee clarified the incident after his final round.
“The media said someone heckled me, but that was not the case at all. No one heckled me,” Lee said. “It was just out of frustration. It was aimed at the ball, not anyone in the crowd. I regret what I did regardless of the reason. It’s something that I shouldn’t have done. Everybody makes mistakes, and I made this mistake, and I’m just going to learn from this.”
Sunday’s attendance of 35,565 couldn’t come close to matching the crowds for Tiger Woods’s two wins here — 43,936 in 2009 and 48,611 last year. But the week-long attendance of 146,909 beat out all the years at Congressional other than 2009, when the event set a record of 194,073 for two practice days and four rounds of competition.
“The turnout’s been incredible, especially today,” Woods said. “The weather forecast wasn’t supposed to be very good. … This is a huge sporting town. They really support their sports here. They’ve come out and supported us, and this year has been no different.”
Reigning Masters champion Adam Scott shot 5-over 76 for his worst round of the tournament. Scott’s card included a double-bogey 7 at No. 6 and bogeys at Nos. 9 and 16. Both those holes are par 5s.
The only birdie of Scott’s round came at No. 13, where his tee shot at the par 3 landed within 19 feet, and he drained the putt for the highlight of his afternoon.
“It just wasn’t my week on the greens,” Scott said despite making that long putt. “I didn’t make anything. A couple things to work on, but I’m feeling okay with everything and looking forward to getting over there” for the British Open, which will begin July 18.
Barry Svrluga contributed to this report.