Photo courtesy of Christian Petersen/PGA of America via Getty Images
It’s an unlikely leader at the end of the first two days of the PGA Championships at TPC Harding Park, after Haotong Li used a 65 Friday to have the lead after 36 holes at 8-under par.
Li’s round finished early in the day – hist post-round interview was at 12:10 p.m. – but after lunch and a quick nap he was back at Harding Park practicing when the last groups of the afternoon session were finishing their rounds after 7 p.m..
Li has a two-shot lead heading into Saturday, a day known as “moving day,” in professional golf.
Li will be joined in the final group of the third round by Tommy Fleetwood, who tied for the low round of the day with a 6-under, 64. There are six golfers at 6-under, including two time defending PGA champ Brooks Koepka. Three more are at 4-under, with nine golfers at 3-under.
Tiger Woods made the cut at even-par through 36 holes, finishing Friday at a 2-over 72.
For Li, it was a surprise he is playing so well as his recent form has been shaky at best.
“Yeah, I didn’t even think I could play like this this week, especially, like you said, got no confidence. Probably it helped me clear my mind a little bit this week, said Li. “The last couple days I’ve been pretty much all hit in the right spot. Even if I miss the green, I still got a chance to up-and-down, and also got a lot — good lies in the rough.”
No Chinese player has ever won a major, but now Li sits 36 holes from accomplishing the task. At least following his round Li isn’t even thinking about it.
“Well, I’ve got no expectation actually, because you know, last few months, stay at home doing nothing. I just want to out here have fun,” said Li.
Fleetwood was even-par on the first day before he came back with the low round on Friday.
“Yesterday we played in tough conditions in the afternoon, and I was 3-under through 11 holes, so I wasn’t that far away. I had a couple of bad holes, and then I felt like I played really well coming in and gained one on 17 and bogeyed the last,” said Fleetwood. “It was disappointing, but it was still all right. Today I think I drove it really well, put it in the fairway around here and it makes a massive, massive difference, and really didn’t give many shots away. Yeah, today felt good. Felt like I worked my way into the round well and then gained momentum and then kept it going.”
The other low round of the day came from Sacramento native Cameron Champ. Champ started the day 1-over for the tournament, but following his 64, stands just three shots off the lead.
“You know, yesterday I really drove it okay, but today I hit a lot more fairways than I did yesterday, and my iron play was a lot better,” said Champ. “I think I only missed, I think, three greens today with the few fairways I missed. I just gave myself more opportunities, and I got some putts to fall today.”
For Champ, it’s a special feeling to be in contention in a major just a couple hours from where he grew up.
“Yeah, you know, I played here a little bit growing up, not as much as Olympic Club and Lake Merced and a few other courses,” said Champ. “But yeah, it definitely feels kind of like home. Like I said, it’s only an hour and a half, two hours. I’ve played a lot of golf down here, just all over California, honestly. It’s just nice to be back here.”
By Dennis Miller