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China's number 1 off to hot start at the PGA Championship

Li Haotong is trying to become the first player from the country to win a men’s major title.

Li Haotong has enjoyed a promising start at the PGA Championship.
Li Haotong has enjoyed a promising start at the PGA Championship.
Image: Charlie Riedel

LI HAOTONG, who is trying to become the first player from China to win a men’s major title, fired a bogey-free 65 Friday to seize the second round clubhouse lead at the PGA Championship.

China’s number one is hoping his solid play this week in San Francisco will revive the form that catapulted him to the upper echelons of golf with a third-place finish at the 2017 British Open.

“The last couple of days I’ve been pretty much all hitting in the right spot,” said Li, who turned 25 on Monday. “Even if I miss the green, I still got a chance for an up-and-down.”

In 2012, Feng Shanshan made history by becoming the first player from China to win a major when she captured the women’s PGA Championship.

Li has two victories on the European Tour and his best result in a PGA Championship was 36th in 2019. 

Asked what it is going to take for him to become the first male to win a major, Li said he needs to drive the ball straight.

“Well, I still got two rounds left. A long way to go. I just want to play my best. If it happens, it happens.

“I think the key on this course, you just need to hit as many fairways as you can, and especially putting and short game is quite important.”

The conditions were challenging Friday morning as the sun finally came out after several days of marine fog, but the winds also starting whipping around the TPC Harding Park course.

Li’s scorecard consisted of five birdies, including four on the front nine. He has just one bogey through the initial 36 holes of the first major championship since the coronavirus first struck in China and then ravaged the United States.

Brooks Koepka delivered a magical bunker shot to make birdie on his closing hole Friday as he fired a two-under 68 to stay in contention.

Koepka is just two shots behind leader Haotong to keep his pursuit of a third straight PGA Championship alive.

“I feel very comfortable with an iron in my hand,” said Koepka who is at six-under 134. “With a driver I feel very comfortable. I feel like I’m hitting it really solid. I just need to make a few more putts.”

Koepka hit some jaw-dropping drives and clutch iron shots in the second round as he finished with four birdies and two bogeys. He used 300-foot plus drives to set up birdies on No. 4, No. 10 and No. 18. 

Koepka’s tee shot on 18 sailed 339 feet but found a fairway bunker. He blasted his next shot out of the sand to seven feet and made the putt for birdie. 

 

Meanwhile, Tiger Woods says he is going to have to hit crisper irons and clean up his putting on Saturday if he is going have any chance at capturing his 16th major championship. 

Woods fired a two-over par 72 Friday to make the cut, but his even-par 140 total leaves him eight shots off the lead.

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“Tomorrow I’m going off early and hopefully I can get it going, drive the ball like I did today, hit my irons a little bit more crisp, and be a little bit more aggressive on the putts,” said the 15-time major champion.

Even if his game isn’t as sharp as it used to be, history has shown it is never wise to count Woods out, especially after his stunning Masters victory last year.

Woods teed off for the second straight day with former world number one Rory McIlroy and current No. 1 Justin Thomas. The marquee trio all made the cut with Thomas sneaking in on the cut line at one over 141.

McIlroy is one stroke ahead of Woods at one-under 139 after a roller-coaster round that included four consecutive birdies beginning on No. 7 followed by a triple bogey on the 12th.

Woods switched to a longer putter this week and is still getting used to it. He is pleased with the way he is driving the ball, but the new putter let him down.

“I really struggled with getting the speed of the greens today,” said the four-time PGA Champion. “They looked faster than what they were putting. 

“They were firm coming into the greens, but they weren’t putting as fast as they looked, and then as the day wore on, they got a little more fuzzy and got even slower.

“I struggled even a little bit more hitting the putts hard enough.”

Woods has played only one tournament since the PGA Tour returned (a T40 finish at the Memorial) and has shown mixed results in the few events he’s entered this season.

When coronavirus hit, Woods took five months off to heal himself and fix his swing. He returned two weeks ago with mixed results at the Memorial.

Woods had better luck with the weather in Thursday’s first round than he did on Friday as heavy gusts whipped around the TPC Harding Park course.

“Early in the round I had a couple of putts that were downwind and the wind was blowing the putts a little bit,” he said.

“J.T. got affected a couple of times today with the wind gusts, and I did on one hole pretty badly. 

“If I can get myself in position where I did today driving off the tee, I think I can have a really good weekend.”

Shane Lowry is one shot behind McIlroy after a round of 72. The Offaly native enjoyed a bright start to the day with birdies on the first and fifth. But he was frustrated after a run of three straight bogeys which saw the Open champion snap his club after his approach shot on the 13th led to another bogey.

 

© – AFP 2020

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