British Open 2017

China's Li surges with 63

China's Li Haotong walking down the 18th fairway during the final round at Royal Birkdale. He recorded his seventh birdie of the day at the final, par-four hole.
China's Li Haotong walking down the 18th fairway during the final round at Royal Birkdale. He recorded his seventh birdie of the day at the final, par-four hole.PHOTO: REUTERS

At 21, he signals his potential with stunning seven-under final round

SOUTHPORT (Britain) • Chinese prodigy Li Haotong caused a sensation in the British Open yesterday as he shot a seven-under 63 in his final round at Royal Birkdale to finish on six-under 274 overall.

Li, 21, started the day at +1 for the championship and parred his first seven holes before a remarkable run of seven birdies and four pars in his remaining 11 holes.

His result vaulted him up to third before Americans Jordan Spieth and Matt Kuchar battled for the top spot later in the day.

It is only the 32nd time a 63 has ever been recorded in a Major championship and just the 11th achieved at a British Open.

The score had the all-time low in a Major until Saturday, when South Africa's Branden Grace broke new ground with an unprecedented 62 in the third round.

"I just played really stable on my first nine, nothing like a fancy shot, and everything started to come together on my eighth hole. I started holing everything," the Chinese said in an interview with Golf Channel.

"I just wish I can finish top four, it's good enough for me."

It was the first time that Li was playing in the Open, and he was also the first Chinese golfer to make the cut at a Major at last month's US Open where he finished 68th.

When asked about his experience and challenges playing at Royal Birkdale, he said: "The first two rounds were played in really tough conditions. But I think I did great and I just couldn't believe that I shot so many birdies in the final round. It's a dream come true."

Four-time Major winner Ernie Els, 47, was impressed with Li's performance.

"The birdies on Nos. 8 and 9 really freed him up," said South African Els, who played with Li yesterday.

"Then he made an unbelievable save on Nos. 10, 11. He didn't miss a putt. The par on No. 17, he came out of a fairway bunker. He did everything he could."

Li may be just 21, but the sort of firepower he showed in yesterday's final round of the Open is no surprise.

The Chinese star is already a European Tour winner (2016 Volvo China Open) and has three other top-three finishes on the circuit.

In a country that is relatively new to golf, Li had previously stated that he hoped the game can grow more extensively and that more people will be exposed to golf.

"In China the golf courses are largely private, rather than public," he said. "In terms of growing the game, there will need to be more public courses, for sure."

Li added that the Masters is the tournament he would most like to win.

"Definitely the Masters. I'd love a Green Jacket… then a Claret Jug," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2017, with the headline 'China's Li surges with 63'. Print Edition | Subscribe