LI Haotong became an overnight sensation as he registered China’s best performance at a golf major with a final-round 63 to finish third in The Open at Royal Birkdale.
The 21-year-old went into the tournament as a relative unknown – and even going into the final day he was 12 shots behind leader and eventual champion Jordan Spieth.
Li parred his first seven holes on day four, and at one point during the final round was a 1,000-1 outsider to triumph.
But seven birdies and four pars in his final 11 holes – including four successive birdies to finish – saw him shoot a seven-under par 63 to finish six under par overall and take the clubhouse lead.
He finished six shots adrift of American Spieth, but has made the golfing world take notice.
“It feels awesome, unbelievable. I can’t explain it but it means a lot,” Li said.
“For some reason, from hole number eight I started to hole everything.
“It was more of a mental thing. When I hit a bad shot I just told myself to hang in there and try to hole the putt. Then I started to hole everything so I was quite happy out there.”
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 23, 2017
Li was playing with South African veteran Ernie Els, a four-time major winner, who rated his round as highly as the major-record 62 shot by Branden Grace in the third round.
“Because of the wind and the flag positions, 63 in a final round is unbelievable,” said Els.
“Branden has the record, absolutely done and dusted, but (Li’s) round is as good. It’s not the same number, but it’s the same quality golf.”
Li’s round was only the 32nd time 63 had been shot in a major championship, and only the 11th achieved at a British Open.
Li, who last month became the first Chinese player to make the cut at the US Open, opened with a solid 69-73-69 at Royal Birkdale.
But his final round ensured he headed to the range hoping for a few bogeys from Spieth and Matt Kuchar (who finished second, nine under par) to stay in with a chance of winning the famous claret jug.
As it turned out, the American duo each shot rounds of 69 to finish one under for the day.
Hopes had been high for a second Asian male winner of one of golf’s four majors, with Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama (who finished two under for the tournament) one of the favourites.
But Li, who won the China Open last year when aged 20, stole the show and will now look to work his way up the world rankings from his position of 107th.