By Ed Osmond
SOUTHPORT, England (Reuters) – China’s Li Haotong soared up the British Open leaderboard with a superb last-round 63 on Sunday and at one stage looked to have a chance of becoming the second Asian man to win a major title.
When leader Jordan Spieth dropped three shots early in his round, Li was only two behind but the American fought back to win the title and the 21-year-old world number 107 ended up third, three strokes behind runner-up Matt Kuchar.
A day after South African Branden Grace fired the first 62 in a men’s major championship, Li picked up seven birdies, including one at each of the last four holes, in a flawless round at Royal Birkdale.
“It’s kind of a dream come true. For some reason since hole No. 8 I just start holing everything,” Li told reporters. “It is unbelievable actually.”
Li played the final round with South African Ernie Els and the twice British Open champion was impressed.
“He was playing good and making putts. He had a nice attitude and I could see he wasn’t backing off,” Els told reporters.
“You see some guys get a little bit scared but he kept going. So it was really special to see.”
Li has one European Tour victory, at the 2016 China Open, and qualified for Birkdale by finishing in the top 30 in last year’s Race to Dubai rankings.
He played in last month’s U.S. Open but did not enjoy the experience, shooting 82 and 84 in the last two rounds to finish bottom of the field by seven strokes, on 22 over par.
Li’s mood did not improve at the French Open when he tossed his broken putter into a lake during the first round and his mother had to wade into the water to retrieve it.
“My mum didn’t know I broke my putter in the lake and she just tried to help me,” Li said. “But I was really sorry for her.”
South Korean Yang Yong-eun is the only Asian-born man to win a major, the 2009 U.S. PGA Championship.
(Editing by Christian Radnedge and Clare Fallon)
By Ed Osmond