Masters 2018

Li's prayers answered at daunting amen corner

China's Li Haotong watches his chip shot land on the 18th green during the first round of the Masters tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday. The 22-year-old's three-under 69 catapulted him to tied fourth.
China's Li Haotong watches his chip shot land on the 18th green during the first round of the Masters tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday. The 22-year-old's three-under 69 catapulted him to tied fourth.PHOTO: REUTERS

Chinese No. 1 brilliantly birdies three-hole stretch to be tied fourth on his Masters debut

Augusta National Golf Club is perhaps the most picturesque venue in the golfing world, but there is a stretch of real estate measuring 1,170 yards that sends shivers up the spines of even hardened pros.

Amen Corner, which comprises the 505-yard par-4 11th, the 155-yard par-3 12th and the 510-yard par-5 13th, is replete with morbid stories of dreams ending in tatters.

And yet in Thursday's opening round, there was one player who just blitzed through the three holes - China's Li Haotong.

The 22-year-old's three-under 69 catapulted him to tied fourth on his Masters debut, three strokes behind leader Jordan Spieth at the first men's Major of the year.

But, more importantly, he had a red number on each of the three holes.

Li's three birdies at Amen Corner were definitely the highlight of what was otherwise a dull start for the Asian players.

Asian Tour Order of Merit leader Shubhankar Sharma of India finished on five-over 77 after a late stumble, while world No. 30 Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand struggled with the after-effects of cracking his driver earlier in the week. He shot a 79.

MY PRAYER

Well, at the 10th hole, I made a lovely bogey down there. It had a double bogey written all over it and I literally said 'Amen' there before moving to the 11th.

LI HAOTONG, who birdied the next three holes which make up Amen Corner.

However, Fiji's Asian Tour honorary member and veteran Vijay Singh put together a decent opening round of 71.

Li, the winner of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year, insisted he just got fortunate at Amen Corner.

"Well, at the 10th hole, I made a lovely bogey down there. It had a double bogey written all over it and I literally said 'Amen' there before moving to the 11th," said the world No. 42, the top-ranked Chinese golfer.

"Over at the 11th tee, I just got lucky. My second shot went over the green and I used a lob-wedge and I hit it too hard.

"Thankfully, the ball hit the flag and dropped in.

"On the 12th, I just smashed a good nine-iron shot down there.

"And on the 13th, I got lucky again when my lay-up second shot missed the rough by just about an inch.

"From there, it was an easy up-and-down. So, quite lucky today."

Sharma, who received a special invitation from the Masters Committee, looked like pulling himself out of trouble after a shaky start when the closing three holes got to him.

He was three over after eight holes with two three-putt bogeys, and then sprayed his approach shots on the back nine.

"To be honest, (I'm) not too happy with the round. I didn't finish the way I wanted to, but it was great out there, the atmosphere and everything, it was fantastic," said the 21-year-old winner of the Joburg Open and the Maybank Championship on the European Tour this season.

"But there are some bright things to look forward to tomorrow and I'll try and do my best.

"It was the putter on the front nine and approach on the back nine. It was a mix of both."

Kiradech, who has been in sizzling form lately having finished tied fifth in both his World Golf Championship starts last month, said he wasn't surprised with his score.

"I broke my driver at the start of the week and, even though I got a replacement driver, it was not the same," said the affable Thai.

"I found just three fairways during the round, and you cannot score on a golf course like this without finding the fairways.

"Hopefully, it would be better tomorrow."

MASTERS

Day 3: Singtel TV Ch114 & StarHub Ch208, tomorrow, 3am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2018, with the headline 'Li's prayers answered at daunting amen corner'. Print Edition | Subscribe