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Hoshino and Lee set up Australian Open showdown

SYDNEY (AFP) – Japan’s Rikuya Hoshino fired a flawless 65 yesterday for a share of the lead with Min Woo Lee at the Australian Open, while South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai moved into prime position to defend her women’s title.

Six-time Japan Tour winner Hoshino hit four birdies and an eagle to reel in Australian overnight leader Lee in his bid for a maiden DP World Tour win.

Lee began the day in Sydney with a three-stroke lead from Scotland’s Connor Syme and American Patrick Rodgers, but struggled with his putter to card a one-under-par 70, holing a pressure birdie at the last.

It set up a re-run of last week’s Australian PGA Championship in Brisbane, when Lee took a three-shot lead over playing partner Hoshino into the final day and hung on to win his third DP World Tour title.

“It’s one of those days and hopefully I can get it going tomorrow,” said Lee. “Today was a bit of a grind, I didn’t feel like I had it all there, but still did some good stuff.”

Lee opened with a birdie and it looked like he might run away with the lead.

Australia’s Min Woo Lee reacts after missing a birdie putt during the Australian Open Golf Championships. PHOTO: AP

But he found the water at the third to card a double-bogey and another bogey at the 10th coupled with Hoshino’s eagle at the 14th put them level at 12-under-par for the tournament.

A birdie for Hoshino at the 18th edged him in front before Lee responded.

“This is the first time I’ve come to Australia and I am enjoying the atmosphere and the tournament. So that’s why I think I’m playing well,” said Hoshino.

“I’m going to use many experiences winning in Japan, and my goal this year is to win a DP World Tour event, so I’m going to try my best.” England’s Alex Fitzpatrick – the younger brother of 2022 US Open Champion Matt Fitzpatrick – surged into contention with a 66 to be one behind them, alongside Rodgers.

The mixed Australian Open involves men and women teeing off in alternating groups on the same courses.

The Jack Nicklaus-designed Australian Golf Club is the main venue across all four days, while the nearby Lakes Golf Club co-hosted play during the first two rounds.

Defending champion Buhai, the 2022 British Open winner, opened her account with four straight birdies, sinking one from the bunker to surge into a lead that she never relinquished.

She kept her focus for a bogey-free 67 to be 12-under for the title, leading South Korean veteran Shin Jiyai, herself a two-time British Open champion, by three shots.

“It would be super special (to win again), said Buhai. “I’ve heard it’s going to be windy (on Sunday) which suits me. I think patience is going to be key.”

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