China’s Haotong Li shined on his Open debut at Royal Birkdale, where he closed his final round with four straight birdies to shoot 63, seven under par and now he is playing well at Augusta National
Who is Haotong Li?
Chin's Haotong Li is leading the 2018 US Masters (opens in new tab), but what do we know about the man?
Li shone on his debut at The Open 2017, where he shot an incredible 63 in the final round to rise to third place on the leaderboard.
"It feels awesome, unbelievable. I can't explain it but it means a lot," Li told Golf Monthly after his round.
"For some reason, from hole number eight I started to hole everything.
"It was more of a mental thing. When I hit a bad shot I just told myself to hang in there and try to hole the putt. Then I started to hole everything so I was quite happy out there."
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Li's playing partner was Ernie Els, who rates Li's performance as highly as the 62 shot by Els' South African countryman Branden Grace in yesterday's third round.
"Because of the wind and the flag positions, 63 in a final round is unbelievable," said Els. "Branden has the record, absolutely done and dusted, but today's round is as good. It's not the same number, but it's the same quality golf.
"Haotong was playing good and making putts and he had a nice attitude. I could see he wasn't backing off. You see some guys get a little bit scared but he kept going. It was really special to see."
For his part, Li was grateful for the support he received from Els, a four-time major winner and twice the Open champ, in 2002 and 2012.
"Ernie is such a nice guy," said Li. "Especially over the last few holes, he gave me a lot of encouragement."
At 21, Li has become accustomed to setting the pace for his countrymen on tour. In 2016 he became the youngest winner of the China Open on the European Tour, aged 20, when an inspired final round of 64, eight under par, saw him win by three.
When Li won the Nanshan China Masters at the age of 19 in 2014, he became the youngest ever winner on the OneAsia Tour.
Now established on the European Tour, Li is the third Chinese golfer to tee up in The Open. First came Liang Wen-Chong in 2008 (at the age of 29), also at Birkdale, before Ashun Wu made his Open debut in 2013 at the age of 28.
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In addition to becoming the youngest Chinese golfer to play in The Open, no other Chinese player has ever finished in the top-60 or even record a round in the 60s in the storied championship. Li shot 69-73-69-63 this week.
“Playing in The Open is a big step for me," he adds. "Hopefully I can qualify for more majors in the future. I have played in the U.S. Open once, now The Open, and I look forward to one day playing in the PGA Championship and the Masters too”.
Li can't finish lower than third in The Open at the time of writing, which will qualify him for at invitation to the 2018 Masters.
Haotong Li is a brand ambassador for Mercedes-Benz – an Official Patron and the Official Car of The Open.
Robin has worked for Golf Monthly for over a decade.
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