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China's Li surprised by resurgence at PGA Championship

Aug 7, 2020; San Francisco, California, USA; Haotong Li plays his shot from the 14th tee during the second round of the 2020 PGA Championship golf tournament at TPC Harding Park. /Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Li Haotong did not think he had any chance of being a contender at this week’s PGA Championship but on Friday he came out of nowhere with a bogey-free second round and suddenly has an opportunity to become the first Chinese man to win a major.

Li, who is 114th in the world rankings, birdied five of his first 10 holes at TPC Harding Park en route to a five-under-par 65 that moved him to a total of eight-under and left him at a loss for words to explain how he did it.

“I didn’t even think I could play like this this week ... got no confidence,” said Li, who only hit four of 14 fairways during his round.

Li came into the year’s first major lacking any sense of confidence given his only two events since the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a missed cut in July and a share of 75th place in a 78-player field last week.

When the PGA Tour shut down in mid-March for three months because of the novel coronavirus, Li spent the break in China where he said he did very little. Because of that, he does not expect much going into the weekend.

“Well, I’ve got no expectation actually, because you know, (the) last few months, (I’ve had to) stay at home doing nothing,” said Li. “I just want to be out here, have fun.”

Li said his experience at the 2017 British Open, where as a 21-year-old he finished third after a final-round 63 at Royal Birkdale, should help him over the next two rounds.

But Li, who turned pro in 2011 aged 16 and won the PGA Tour China Order of Merit in 2014, was not sure what it would take for him to become the first player from China to win a major.

“I don’t know,” said Li. “Well, (we’ve) still got two rounds left. Long way to go. Just want to play my best. If it happens, it happens.”

Reporting by Rory Carroll; Writing by Frank Pingue; Editing by Ken Ferris

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