Shoot­ing star

Li Hao­tong’s 63 in round at Bri­tish Open earns him place at Mas­ters

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

SOUTHPORT, Eng­land — Li Hao­tong crept into un­ex­pected con­tention at the Bri­tish Open with the round of his life on Sun­day.

It didn’t win him the claret jug, but it did earn him a place at the Mas­ters.

The 21-year-old Chi­nese be­came the fourth player to shoot 63 in the fi­nal round of the Bri­tish Open, af­ter Jodie Mudd (Royal Birk­dale in 1991), Payne Ste­wart (Royal St. George’s in 1993) and Hen­rik Sten­son (Royal Troon in 2016).

The 7-un­der round moved him to 6-un­der for the tour­na­ment and, af­ter be­ing just two shots off the lead at one stage, he fin­ished in third place, six shots be­hind cham­pion Jor­dan Spi­eth.

Ernie Els, Li’s play­ing part­ner, had a front-row seat of a bo­gey-free round con­tain­ing seven birdies — four com­ing in the fi­nal four holes — and just 25 putts.

“I could see he wasn’t back­ing off,” Els said. “You see some guys get a lit­tle bit scared, but he kept go­ing. It was re­ally spe­cial to see.”

Li said he felt at home at Royal Birk­dale be­cause it was sim­i­lar to the Lake Malaren course he plays in Shang­hai.

“Un­be­liev­able, ac­tu­ally,” he said. “I can’t ex­plain. Glad to see I holed ev­ery­thing. I was quite happy out there.”

Li won the Volvo China Open last year and gained more no­to­ri­ety last month at the French Open, when he threw his put­ter into a lake in frus­tra­tion af­ter a bo­gey.

Min­utes later, his mother waded into the muddy wa­ter to re­trieve the club, slowly re­turned with it to dry land, only to throw it back into the wa­ter be­cause it had been snapped in half by Li.

“Don’t re­mind me, please,” Li said, laugh­ing.

The 63 would have tied a record for a ma­jor cham­pi­onship if Bran­den Grace had not shot 62 on Satur­day.

“Ob­vi­ously Bran­den has the record. It’s ab­so­lutely done and dusted. So what he did yes­ter­day broke ev­ery record in the book,” Els said.

“But to­day’s round, for what it is, is as good a round. It’s not the same num­ber, but it’s the same qual­ity golf.”

Li shot 82-84 in the fi­nal two rounds at the US Open last month. He earned a place at Au­gusta Na­tional next year for un­ex­pect­edly fin­ish­ing in the top four at Royal Birk­dale.

Mean­while, Spi­eth will go into the US PGA Cham­pi­onship next month look­ing to join an elite club and com­plete a ca­reer grand slam af­ter his mem­o­rable tri­umph on Sun­day.

Spi­eth’s dra­matic vic­tory saw him add the fa­mous claret jug to the Mas­ters green jacket he won at Au­gusta in 2015 and his US Open ti­tle the same year.

The Texan has now em­u­lated the great Jack Nick­laus by win­ning three dif­fer­ent ma­jors be­fore the age of 24 — his 24th birth­day is on Thurs­day.

Nick­laus is one of just five play­ers to have claimed all four ma­jors, but Spi­eth can join that elite group by win­ning the PGA at Quail Hol­low in North Carolina start­ing on Aug 10 — and would be the youngest to get there.

“It’s in­cred­i­ble. It’s a life goal of mine. It’s a ca­reer goal. Grow­ing up play­ing golf, I just wanted to be able to play in ma­jor cham­pi­onships and com­pete with the best in the world, and things have hap­pened very quickly,” Spi­eth said.

He sur­vived a ma­jor wob­ble in the last round at Birk­dale to fin­ish 12-un­der and beat com­pa­triot Matt Kuchar by three shots.

Spi­eth was al­ready the fourth-youngest man to cap­ture two ma­jors with his 2015 dou­ble, hav­ing pre­vi­ously be­come the youngest win­ner on the PGA Tour in over 80 years at the John Deere Clas­sic in 2013.

Adding to his achieve­ments, Spi­eth warmed up for Birk­dale with a vic­tory at the Trav­el­ers Cham­pi­onship last month which al­lowed him to match Tiger Woods in reach­ing dou­ble dig­its for tour wins by such a young age.

Along with Nick­laus, the other play­ers to have com­pleted the ca­reer Grand Slam are Woods, Ben Ho­gan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen.

But Spi­eth is not a fan of com­par­isons be­tween him and the all-time greats of the sport.

“To be in that com­pany, no doubt is ab­so­lutely in­cred­i­ble. And I cer­tainly ap­pre­ci­ate it ... but that kind of com­par­i­son is still a long way off. Still, we work re­ally hard to have that, with that be­ing the goal,” said Spi­eth af­ter be­com­ing the youngest Bri­tish Open cham­pion since 22-year-old Seve Balles­teros won at Royal Lytham in 1979.

His vic­tory, and the man­ner of it, drew praise from Nick­laus.

“He’s won 11 tour­na­ments and I had won eight be­fore 24,” Nick­laus, now 77, wrote on Twit­ter on Sun­day.

“If you look at his vic­tory to­tal, his win to­day and the way he won, Jor­dan has shown an amaz­ing dis­play of ma­tu­rity for some­one so young, and he has been do­ing that for a quite a while.

“I think it’s won­der­ful.”

Un­be­liev­able, ac­tu­ally. I can’t ex­plain. Glad to see I holed ev­ery­thing. I was quite happy out there.” Li Hao­tong, af­ter shoot­ing 63 in the fi­nal round of the Bri­tish Open

PETER BYRNE/ VIA AP & HAN­NAH MCKAY / REUTERS

China's Li Hao­tong cel­e­brates with South Africa's Ernie Els af­ter shoot­ing a 63 in the fi­nal round of the Bri­tish Open in Southport, Eng­land, on Sun­day. Be­low: Tour­na­ment win­ner Jor­dan Spi­eth of the US checks out the claret jug af­ter be­ing pre­sented with the cham­pi­onship prize.

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