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Li leads Shanghai WGC to fuel home hopes


SHANGHAI, China: A last-minute switch back to his old clubs helped China’s Li Haotong find his groove and delight a home crowd by charging to the first-round lead in the WGC-HSBC Championships in Shanghai on Thursday.

China’s highest-ranked male golfer and its first-ever President’s Cup selection, Li’s eight-under-par 64 also made him the first Chinese player to hold a lead after any round in a World Golf Championships event.

It was Li’s best performance yet after 24 previous rounds in Asia’s premiere golf event, which offers a big purse and attracts a high-powered field. Li, known as much for his quick smile as for a fast-improving game, has emerged as China’s best hope for a long-awaited break into the top ranks of the men’s game, and he looked it in Shanghai. Playing alongside one of his idols, Phil Mickelson, the world number 59 didn’t drop a shot on his front nine and cruised home to a one-shot lead at Sheshan International Golf Club.

A posse of golfers including former Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia and last year’s winner in Shanghai, Xander Schauffele, were two strokes back of Li.

Li, 24, became the first Chinese male golfer to break into the world top 50 a year ago, and is seeking his first PGA Tour win. “Obviously it would be great joy for Chinese golfers and golf fans to have a Chinese player winning a WGC-HSBC Champions here in China, but for the next three days, anything could happen,” he said.

Li switched back to an older set of clubs just before the event after failing to gel with some new irons. — AFP

First-round scores

at WGC-HSBC Champions

64 - Li Haotong (CHN)

65 - Victor Perez (FRA)

66 - Im Sung-jae (KOR), Adam Scott (AUS), Matthew Fitzpatrick (ENG), Xander Schauffele (USA)

67 - Corey Conners (CAN), Matthias Schwab (AUT), Rory McIlroy (NIR)

68 - Zhang Xinjun (CHN), Louis Oosthuizen (RSA), Danny Willett (ENG), Abraham Ancer (MEX)

69 - Matthew Millar (AUS), Jason Kokrak (USA), Yuan Yechun (CHN), An Byeong-hun (KOR), Ryo Ishikawa (JPN), Chez Reavie (USA), JT Poston (USA), Matt Wallace (ENG), Billy Horschel (USA), Tony Finau (USA), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (RSA), Justin Rose (ENG)

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