China’s young rising star Li Haotong (pictured) once again showed he has the temperament and the talent to compete with the world’s best as he shot a six-under par 66 at the WGC-HSBC Champions yesterday.
It left the 20-year-old in sole possession of eighth place in the world-class 78-man field after a first round in which he thrilled large galleries of local fans at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai.
Li is three strokes behind leader Branden Grace, but an impressive two shots clear of some of golf’s biggest stars in Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Bubba Watson, who have won eight majors between them.
“Actually, today, before, my feeling wasn’t that good, so I don’t know why, but today I played very well. It’s very exciting,” he told AFP after his opening round in the $8.5 million event.
Li has endured a busy time lately, playing consecutive weeks in Macau, Hong Kong and Turkey after spending most of the summer struggling for form on the US PGA’s second-tier Web.com Tour.
But he finally demonstrated some of his prodigious ability at last week’s Turkish Airlines Open where he finished seven-under par in a share of 26th place.
The big-hitting youngster also clearly enjoyed Thursday being able to fire into greens that had been softened by two days of rain.
“The greens were way softer than (when I played here) before so this helped a lot. Today, my irons were pretty good, giving me a lot of putts under 10 foot. Also, I made a lot of putts. Very lucky,” he added.
He first rose to prominence at another European Tour event on Chinese soil, the Shenzhen International in April this year, when as a 19-year-old he outshone double Masters champion Watson with whom he played three rounds.
He was eventually pipped to the title by Thailand’s Kiradechn Aphibarnrat in a play-off.
His home club is Shanghai’s nearby Lake Malaren, the venue for next week’s BMW Masters, and Li enjoyed some vociferous support as he bounced back from a bogey at the first hole to card eight birdies.
“I’m getting more comfortable (with the crowds),” he said.
“I played three rounds with Bubba in Shenzhen, so that helped me become more comfortable.”
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