SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – China number one Li Haotong outshone the big guns on Friday to lead at the halfway stage of the PGA Championship, but two-time defending champ Brooks Koepka appears poised to strike.
Li, who is trying to become the first player from China to win a men’s major championship, fired a bogey-free 65 to take a two-shot lead in the first major championship of the pandemic-interrupted season.
Li is at eight-under 132 heading into the weekend making him the first player from China to lead in a major.
Koepka kept his pursuit of a three-peat on track by shooting a hard-fought 68 to join five others in tie for second at six-under at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.
First round co-leader Jason Day, England’s Tommy Fleetwood, Daniel Berger, England’s Justin Rose, and France’s Mike Lorenzo-Vera are all at six-under 134, two shots back of Li.
Brendon Todd, Paul Casey and Cameron Champ are another shot back at five under.
Li, who turned 25 recently, 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.
He drained five birdies, including four on the front nine, making him the first player from China to hold a lead in a major championship. He has just one bogey through 36 holes.
“The last couple of days I’ve been pretty much all hitting in the right spot,” said Li. “Even if I miss the green, I still got a chance for an up-and-down.”
Li would also be just the second Asian player to win a major, joining South Korea’s Yang Yong-eun, who won the 2009 PGA Championship.
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.
Asked what it is going to take for him to become the first Chinese male to do it, 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,” said Li, who has two wins on the European Tour.
“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.”
Li got off to a hot start by making birdie on his first two holes, including a long 22-foot putt on the par-four number two.
On the first hole, Li blasted a 90-yard approach shot out of the rough to just three feet and then tapped in for a birdie.
He also had back-to-back birdies at the turn making putts of 12 feet on the ninth and three feet on the 10th for his only birdie on a par-five.