The 20-year-old Chinese, a poster boy of HSBC-China Golf Association Junior Programme, reached a position no player from his country has ever done before, tying for second place at 15-under par in the WGC-HSBC Champions on Saturday after a brilliant round of six-under par 66.
The previous best by a Chinese player in the tournament was Zhang Liang-wei’s tied 13th place in 2011, but Haotong has a real chance of becoming the first WGC winner from his country.
Haotong, who started his third round in sensational fashion on Saurday, making four birdies in his first four holes, has modest ambitions however. He’d be happy with a top-10 finish, and not even thinking of a win.
When asked if he thought he could win on Sunday, Haotong replied immediately: “No. I don’t think so.
“This tournament is so big – it’s too big. I know that the final day, a lot of people are going to be making a lot of birdies. That’s why I thought 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.
“I hope that I can do well and finish at the position where I want to.”
A huge gallery and a large contingent of local photographers followed the Chinese youngster, playing in the group behind the leadergroup, throughout the day, and he did not disappoint them. Haotong repeatedly made long-range putts from 15-20 feet in a round that featured seven birdies.
When pointed out that he could be playing the final round in the company of Jordan Spieth or Dustin Johnson, Haotong burst out laughing: “That’s pretty cool. I am sure it will be fun. Hopefully, they are nice guys.”
Final group ignored with Haotong Li in group ahead. must feel like old days playing behind Tiger. Minus a few thousand people. And decibels
— Doug Ferguson (@dougferguson405) November 7, 2015
Tournament sponsors HSBC were obviously delighted with the prospect of one of their own students from the grassroots programme having a realistic chance of winning the tournament within nine years of starting the ambitious scheme.
“If anyone wants to see just how far golf in China has come over the last decade, then look at the leaderboard,” said Giles Morgan, global head of sponsorship and events at HSBC.
“It’s an incredible story. Haotong is one of our own. Our vision was to have a player from the program finish in the top 20 in the World Golf Championships within a decade. And there is every chance that will happen, or even better.”
SHANGHAI — ‘Bubba Golf’ is taking the world by storm, but the UAE will have to wait some more time to see the two-time Masters champion in flesh and blood, playing the most awe-inspiring shots.
Bubba Watson, who is the defending champion here in Shanghai this week, is playing a tournament in Japan next week and then the Thai Golf Championship in December. It is a part of his growing love for traveling and popularising the game.
Bubba had faced ridicule for his trip to Paris for the 2011 French Open when he was unhappy with just about everything, including French fans, and could not name a single historic city monument properly.
But things have changed and Bubba said: “When you look at the game, it is growing globally. I wanted to win outside the US and after getting a taste of a victory outside the US here last year, I want to do that again.
“So for me, getting better as a golfer, as a person, I want to try different cultures and learn different golf courses in different areas of the world. For me, it’s just fun.
“I haven’t been over to Dubai or Abu Dhabi. They have invited me but I just haven’t been able to at the start of the year.
“It’s just that it's a tough part of the schedule. It’s just hard for me to go over there instead of getting ready for the PGA Tour. It’s a weird place in the schedule for me personally.”
Silver lining for Lahiri
Friday’s second round wasn’t the best for Anirban Lahiri, and a double bogey-bogey-bogey stretch of four-over score in three holes from the eighth wrecked his card.
But even as Lahiri fell back to tied 61st place at one-over par following a round of three-over par 75, there was some good news for the 27-year-old Indian.
Lahiri was named among the 18 players who will constitute the field for this year’s Hero World Challenge, the annual tournament hosted by Tiger Woods.
The tournament is being played in Bahamas for the first time this year from December 3-6 at the Albany course. Woods himself is not entered, ruled out by the back surgery, but has managed to attract six out of the top-10 players in the world.
And the world No39 Lahiri, who is personally sponsored by Hero group, the titles sponsors of Woods’ tournament, said: “I’d like to thank the Hero group and Tiger for providing me this opportunity. I am excited and really looking forward to it.
“I have always looked up to Tiger and I have grown up loving the game in the Tiger era. I have always admired him for dominating the game for the way he did and for doing so much for our sport. Playing his event was a dream and it is about to come true.”
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) November 5, 2015
SHANGHAI — Rory McIlroy managed to finish another round in Shanghai, but said it was a struggle with his energy levels so low.
The Race to Dubai, who was a victim of a severe case of food poisoning on Tuesday, started with a round of 68 on Thursday, but could do no better than an even-par 72 on Friday that left him tied 27th at the halfway stage.
“I am tired. I was lethargic and it almost got to a point where I was a bit disinterested over the back nine, which is not good,” said McIlroy, who revealed he had lost nearly 10 pounds (almost four and a half kilos) weight in two days.
“It was a bit of a more difficult day, but I think with the way the course is and how soft it is, there’s definitely still scores out there. I didn’t play very well today. I was just a bit flat out there.
“I started off okay, and 2-under through nine I was feeling like I could at least shoot something similar to yesterday and be right up there.
“Missed a few chances on the back nine, a couple of loose shots, a couple of bogeys and that was really the story of my day. Bogeyed two of the short par 4s out there and didn’t really take advantage of the par 5s on the back nine to try and salvage some sort of score.
“So yeah, left myself a lot to do over the weekend but hopefully I can shoot a couple of good scores and get myself back up the leaderboard.”
On his health, McIlroy added: “I wouldn't say I’m 100 per cent. I struggled to hit balls today on the range, get a few cramps in the stomach.
“But I took a couple of tablets and it sort of went away as I went through the round. Still not 100 per cent but I'm getting there.”