Haotong Li surges ahead Friday at the PGA Championship

Haotong Li surges ahead Friday at the PGA Championship


Haotong Li flew ahead of the pack on Friday morning at the PGA Championship behind a stellar bogey-free outing at TPC Harding Park.

Li, after a 3-under 67 on Thursday, carded a 5-under 65 in the second round to grab an early three-shot lead over the rest of the field in San Francisco.

If his lead holds through the end of the day, he’ll be the first player from China to ever lead any of the four major championships at the end of a single round. He’d be the first player from the country to ever win a major, too — though he’s not thinking about that yet.

“Well, I’ve got no expectation actually, because you know, last few months, [I’ve had to] stay at home doing nothing,” Li said after his round. “I just want to go out here have fun.”

Li’s quick start

Li didn’t waste any time on Friday.

The 25-year-old birdied his opening hole after sticking his approach shot right next to the cup, and backed it up on the second hole by draining a deep 20-foot birdie putt to grab a share of the lead. 

Li made two more birdies on the front side, draining solid birdie putts on the fifth and the ninth. He then reached the par-5 10th in two, setting up an easy two-putt birdie to bring him to 5-under on the day.

He then cruised through his final eight holes to end the day with a bogey-free 65.

“The last couple days I’ve been pretty much all hit in the right spot,” Li said. “Even if I miss the green, I still got a chance to up-and-down, and also got a lot [of] good lies in the rough.

Who is Haotong Li?

That’s a fair question to ask, even coming from the average golf fan.

Li doesn’t have much experience on the PGA Tour, and is still looking for his first win on the circuit. He missed the cut at the Memorial Tournament last month and finished T75 at the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational last week after carding a combined 12-over in his final three rounds in Memphis. 

His only other appearance on Tour this season came at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai in November, where he finished T24. He actually led that event after the first round, which made him the first golfer from China to lead or co-lead a WGC event. 

He has competed four times on the European Tour this season, however, with his best finish coming at the Oman Open in February, where he ended T18. 

Though Li — who turned pro in 2011 when he was just 16 — hasn’t won in the United States yet, he does have six international wins under his belt. 

Li has won twice on the European Tour in 2016 and 2018, and then at the Nanshan China Masters in 2014 — an event on the OneAsia Tour. He won three times on the PGA Tour China Series that year, including at their Tour Championship. He narrowly missed out on another win that season, falling in a playoff at the United Investment Real Estate Wuhan Open. 

He’s come close in major championships before, too. 

He finished T16 at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in 2018. His best outing on the big stage, however, came the year prior at the British Open. 

Li skyrocketed 26 spots up the leaderboard on Sunday at Royal Birkdale behind a final round 63, landing him in third behind Matt Kuchar and Jordan Spieth — who won that year by three strokes. 

“It’s a long time ago,” Li laughed when asked about his British Open performance. “Yeah, definitely good to have that experience in my mind, and definitely will help to play the next two rounds.”

While Li still has a way to go on his quest, he’s undoubtedly put himself in a fantastic position with 36 holes left.

Haotong Li of China watches his tee shot on the ninth hole during the second round of the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park on Friday, Aug. 7, 2020, in San Francisco. (AP/Charlie Riedel)

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