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Open: Li makes a major splash with lowest final round of 63



Brilliant Li: Li Haotong acknowledges gallery applause for his feat. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA

Brilliant Li: Li Haotong acknowledges gallery applause for his feat. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA


Brilliant Li: Li Haotong acknowledges gallery applause for his feat. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA

China's Li Haotong shot to fame for the second time in three weeks with the joint-lowest final round in a major, 63. The world number 107 came to the golfing world's attention three weeks ago courtesy of his mother after she was spotted on television wading into a pond at the Open de France to retrieve her son's putter.

Having rolled up her trousers, she grabbed the handle protruding from the surface of the water only to discover the club had been snapped in half prior it being tossed - much to the amusement of Tyrell Hatton and Thomas Pieters, who were playing the green at the time.

But it was Li's exploits on the course which grabbed the headlines at Royal Birkdale - where the few water hazards are thankfully not as prominent as at Le Golf National - as he raced through the field with a brilliant 63 to set the clubhouse lead on six under.

The 21-year-old, who teed off more than three hours before overnight leader Jordan Spieth and 12 shots behind, posted a flawless round with seven birdies in his last 11 holes, including four in a row down the stretch, to set a competitive total.

"For some reason I holed everything. It feels awesome, unbelievable. I can't explain," said the Open debutant, who is trying to live down his mum's escapades in France.

"Actually my mum didn't know I broke my putter in the lake and she just tried to help me. I felt really sorry for her." Asked if she was angry with him that day, he said: "Not really."

Li, who spent time on the Web.com Tour after topping the PGA Tour China Order of Merit in 2014, was ranked 237th in the world when he won the Volvo China Open in May 2016.

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The chance of a place at Augusta next year came as a complete surprise to Li, whose finish at Birkdale comes 46 years after Taiwan's Lu Liang-huan was runner-up to Lee Trevino on the Southport links.

"Really? Wow, that is a big gift. Huge," added Li, who was born in Hunan and only learned to speak English two years ago.

"I learned English on tour, since 2015 when I first played on the Web.com Tour," he said.

"It's a lot easier than you guys learning our language!"

Li has had an eventful time in his relatively short spell as a professional. In May he had to be persuaded to get off a bus heading to the airport at the Rocco Forte Open in Italy as the final pair of Alvaro Quiros and Zander Lombard stumbled only for the duo to finish a shot of ahead of him to go into a play-off.

Li's playing partner Ernie Els, a four-time major winner, was impressed. "I could see he wasn't backing off. You see some guys get a little bit scared, but he kept going so it was really special to see," said the South African, who compared the quality of Li's golf to that of Branden Grace when he shot a 62 for the lowest round in a major on Saturday.

"What Grace did on Saturday broke every record in the book but Li's round, for what it is, is not the same number but it's the same quality golf."

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