The 25-year-old leads the way by two shots at the halfway point of the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park — the first major tournament of 2020 after the sport was shut down for months due to the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic.
One of Li’s sponsors is WeChat — a matter that didn’t go unnoticed by reporters after his second round 65 on Friday in California ensured he’s now the first man from his country to hold the lead after any round at any major tournament.
But the world number 114 was taking it all in his stride when asked for his thoughts on just that. A swift ” I don’t know. Who knows?” took care of that particular question!
Instead it’s his golf that he prefers to let do the talking.
After 36 holes in the Golden State he’s at eight-under par but with a whole cluster of players breathing right down his neck — including the formidable American star Brooks Koepka, who’s looking to win this event for a third straight year.
Not that Li’s putting any pressure on himself. In fact, he appears almost as surprised as anyone to be leading the way even admitting he was low on confidence going into the tournament after poor recent form and the enforced shutdown revealing “I’ve got no expectation actually because you know, the last few months stay at home doing nothing. I just want to be out here and have fun.”
It’s not all fun though. Hours of hard graft are playing their part too. Li was clearly not content to rest on his laurels after finishing his second round at just after 12 pm local time.
While he did take a break for lunch and at least some rest, the Chinese star was back out on the course to practice some five hours after his round had ended apparently working his irons and fine-tuning his putting until around half past seven — video that had social media quickly abuzz!
Li — who famously shot a sensational round of 63 during the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale — has also earned the respect of his fellow professionals even if there’s still room for improvement.
His teammate at last year’s Presidents Cup in Melbourne Adam Scott said “we don’t see that kind of consistency out of him and that probably matches his personality a bit. He’s young though and that’s the kind of golf he plays. He plays pretty much all guns blazing and when it comes off, it’s really good. “
Koepka shrugs off injury scare
If Li has his first major title in his sights, Brooks Koepka is eyeing up number five. The 30-year-old — for whom golf’s majors are very much his lifeblood — is superbly placed at six-under-par after his second round 68 on Friday.
He’s one of six players within just two shots of the lead in his quest to become the first man to win the same major on three consecutive occasions since Peter Thomson triumphed at the Open from 1954-56.
Of some concern to the powerhouse American however may be the treatment on a sore hip that he needed from his physical therapist three times during the back nine though Koepka made it clear afterwards the issue was not related to previous issues with his left knee.
The US star was quick to play down any perceived sign of weakness saying the hip is “fine” adding, “It was a little tight when I was hitting balls on the range but it’s nothing to be worried about. We’ll loosen it up again and it will be a lot better.”
If Koepka is lurking with intent, the same can’t be said for his compatriot and 15-time major champion Tiger Woods who finds himself at level-par for the tournament after a two-over par 72.
Woods, who’ll turn 45 later this year, is aiming for a record-equaling fifth PGA Championship crown and a record 83rd PGA Tour victory to surpass Sam Snead for the most all-time.
On Thursday the former world number one begun with his lowest opening round in a major since 2012 but he couldn’t build on that momentum after a hugely frustrating Friday with his putter and he’ll go into Saturday’s third round eight shots behind Haotong Li.
His playing partners in a marquee trio, Rory McIlroy and new world number one Justin Thomas, are also struggling to make an impression. McIlroy strung together four straight birdies to threaten a charge, halted by a triple bogey on the 12th on his way to a 69 and one-under overall.
Thomas, who won last weekend’s WGC event to claim top spot in the rankings, scraped into the weekend on the cut line of one-over par after a 70, the same mark as Phil Mickelson.