K.H. Lee grabs 36-hole lead at North Mississippi Classic

OXFORD, Miss. – K.H. Lee made the most of warmer conditions Friday in Oxford, Mississippi, posting a second-round 6-under 66 to take the solo lead at the inaugural North Mississippi Classic. Lee posted seven birdies and just one bogey to take a one-stroke lead over Eric Axley at 9-under 135.

“I made some good pars, had some good iron shots,” the 26-year-old commented. “I had a few misses with the driver, but I’m feeling good.”

Lee, who entered the round two strokes shy of the lead, didn’t pick up pace until the end of his round, carding four-consecutive birdies on Nos. 6-9, his final four holes of the day. While the Seoul, South Korea, native credits his game for most of his second-round success, he also admits there were a few shots that simply played out in his favor.

“My shot on No. 7 was a lucky one,” Lee recalled. “I hit my tee shot a little left of the fairway. It hit a tree and bounced back into the fairway, so I was able to make a birdie.”

The eighth-year professional entered the Magnolia State sitting at No. 16 on the Regular Season money list, having already picked up two top-25 finishes in seven starts, including a T2 at the Country Club de Bogotá Championship. Friday marks just the second time Lee has held at least a share of the 36-hole lead, with his last coming at the 2017 Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship.

Sitting one stroke back is Tennessee native Eric Axley, whose bogey-free 7-under 65 moved him into the hunt heading into the weekend. Axley, a winner on both the Web.com Tour and the PGA TOUR, also started his second round slowly, parring his first three holes before picking up his first birdie at No. 13 (his fourth hole). The 43-year-old heated up on his second nine, amassing five birdies.

The success was somewhat unexpected for Axley, who wasn’t able to play many rounds during his two off-weeks due to poor weather in his hometown of Knoxville. When his practice round and first round didn’t go as well as he would’ve liked, Axley had almost lost hope in the week as a whole.

“I didn’t really have any expectations,” Axley laughed after his round. “Today it just showed up. (My three-birdie stretch) came after I missed a short putt the hole before, so it could have been even better. But it was fun.”

The former East Tennessee State University star picked up five top-25 finishes in 22 starts in 2017, finishing the Web.com Tour Finals at No. 59 on the money list. While the performance wasn’t enough to earn Axley a return to the PGA TOUR, it was enough to keep him motivated heading into the 2018 season. He’s notched two top-25 finishes in five starts this year and held a two-stroke lead heading into the final round of the Panama Championship, where he finished T7. Having already been in contention once this season, Axley isn’t intimidated heading into the weekend. Instead, he’s focused and ready to chase after his first professional victory since the 2006 Valero Texas Open.

“I’m just going to try and keep it in play again,” he remarked. “I think around this course if you keep it on the proper side of the hole and keep it in play, you can get the course pretty good. If you get out of position it can play pretty tough.”

* Friday weather: Mostly Sunny, High 68, Winds E/NE 8-14 with gusts around 20 mph.

* This week’s purse is $550,000, with $99,000 going to the champion.

* Reigning NCAA Division I Individual Champion Braden Thornberry followed up an opening-round 3-over 75 with a 3-under 69 to make the cut on the number and enter the weekend at even-par 144, T48.

* Only five players have gone on to win a tournament after making the cut on the number, with current PGA TOUR member Lanto Griffin being the last to complete the feat (Nashville Golf Open Benefitting the Snedeker Foundation, 2017)

* Five of eight events this season have been captured by international-born players, all representing different countries (Sungjae Im, South Korea; Adam Svensson, Canada; Ben Taylor, England; Martin Trainer, France; Julian Etulain, Argentina).

* K.H. Lee would become the second South Korean-born player to pick up a title on the Web.com Tour in 2018, with Sungjae Im having done so at the start of the year.

* In his second Web.com Tour start, Australian Cameron Davis sits at 7-under 137 heading into the weekend. Davis made his career debut earlier this season at the Panama Championship, where he finished 72nd.

* Michael Hebert’s second-round 7-under 65 marked his lowest round of the 2018 Season and tied the current Country Club of Oxford course record. The round was just three strokes higher than his career-low 62, which he shot during the second round of the 2017 Ellie Mae Classic at TPC Stonebrae.

* Alabama standout Dru Love carded a second-round 3-under 69 to enter the weekend at 5-under 139. This is Love’s first made cut on Tour in two starts (Nashville Golf Open Benefitting the Snedeker Foundation, 2017).

* This week’s cut came at even-par 144, with 70 professionals and one amateur making the cut. It marks the sixth time in eight events that the cut has been at even-par or higher.

* C.C. of Oxford scoring averages:
     Front (36)  Back (36)   Total (72)
R1    37.484     36.123       73.606
R2    35.770     36.184       71.954

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