Li set for Shanghai surprise

Li Haotong (above) is lying one stroke behind leader Kevin Kisner going into today's final round.
Li Haotong (above) is lying one stroke behind leader Kevin Kisner going into today's final round.

Young Chinese in line to win one of golf's biggest events

SHANGHAI • Li Haotong, at just 20, has a chance to do something today that would have been unthinkable a few years ago - win one of golf's biggest events for China.

He is just one shot behind leader Kevin Kisner (70) in the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai after a six-under 66 in the third round yesterday took him to 15-under 201. He is also two shots ahead of Masters and US Open champion Jordan Spieth, who just happens to be about the best player on the planet right now.

Li will likely play with world No. 8 and 2013 winner Dustin Johnson, who shot a 65 for a share of second place, in the final round today. They are competing for the US$1.4 million (S$1.9 million) winner's cheque and the "Old Tom Morris" trophy - one of the most prestigious outside a Major championship.

The Shanghai-based Li has had the HSBC Champions coursing through his veins from a young age. The tournament was founded in 2005 when Li was just 10 and he participated in its junior golf programme, which enabled him to be inspired by watching legends such as Tiger Woods at Sheshan International Golf Club.

"This tournament is so big - it's too big," he said smiling, as he tried to take in the enormity of what he was achieving in front of thousands of enraptured home-town fans.

"I know that the final day, a lot of people are going to be hitting a lot of birdies. But that's why I thought that my target, my goal of this tournament, would be making the top 10, because making the top 10 will already be a highlight and a milestone for my short career."

He should not be surprised that he can compete with the world's best. In April this year, in the European Tour's Shenzhen International, he teed up alongside double US Masters champion Bubba Watson for the first three rounds. He did not on the fourth day because by then he had outplayed the big-hitting lefty and was leading the event.

Li eventually lost in a play-off to Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat. So can he get over the winning line this time? "I don't think so," he said.

But if he plays as he did here yesterday, he might just. He reeled off four straight birdies - including putts of 20 feet and 25 feet at the first and fourth - to start his round, and stayed composed throughout even with the intimidating figure of Spieth charging up the leaderboard with a best-of-the-day 63.

The world No. 2 had nine birdies and no bogeys to storm up from 27th to a share of fifth place.

The world No. 1 said it could have been even better as he missed four shortish birdie putts that, had they all dropped, would have seen the American post a 59 - an almost mythical score achieved only six times in PGA Tour history.

"I missed four putts inside eight feet today and that's not normal," he said. "So what could have been and what it was, both are special."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WGC-HSBC CHAMPIONS

Day 4: Singtel TV Ch115 & Ch209, 11am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 08, 2015, with the headline 'Li set for Shanghai surprise'. Print Edition | Subscribe