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China's Li tees up fresh beginning

China Daily | Updated: 2022-01-14 09:57
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China's Li Haotong will tee up at this week's PGA Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, Hawaii. [Photo/Agencies]

Once ranked in the world's top 50, China's Li Haotong hopes to use this week's appearance at the $7.5 million PGA Sony Open in Hawaii to reboot his career.

The 26-year-old Chinese golfer, who has defeated the likes of Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka in years gone by, has endured some lean times which coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, recent runner-up finishes at China's National Games and the Volvo China Open have been positive signs.

Li, who was a member of the International Team for the 2019 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne and is a two-time winner on the DP World Tour, tees up at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu against a field that features defending champion Kevin Na, last week's Sentry Tournament of Champions winner Cameron Smith, Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, South Korean star Im Sung-jae and world amateur No 1 Keita Nakajima.

"First of all, thanks to the Sony Open for this great opportunity to be here. It is a great event and it is a pleasure for me to start my new year in Hawaii. I hope I'll have a good start," said Li, who missed the cut in his lone appearance in Hawaii in 2016.

"I have prepared well and I hope to show my strength. I'm really looking forward to this week."

Li's slide down the world rankings began in 2020, during which he missed eight cuts in 18 appearances; 2021 was also a year to forget for the Chinese putter as he missed 14 cuts in 18 tournaments. Now he finds himself sitting at 460th in the rankings.

Part of his comeback has included working with a new coach, Jamie Mulligan, who also coaches reigning FedExCup champion Patrick Cantlay. Already Mulligan's guidance appears to be having a positive effect, with Li showing glimpses of his old form with strong results at home during the final quarter of last year.

He is perhaps best remembered for beating McIlroy in a head-to-head for a memorable victory at the 2018 Dubai Desert Classic. He also defeated Koepka at the 2019 Dell Technologies Match Play in the group stages which later helped him become the first golfer from the Chinese mainland to qualify for the Presidents Cup. He was also the 36-hole leader at the PGA Championship in 2020 before finishing tied for 17th.

Now, Li is hopeful he can regain his place among the world's elite. "At the Volvo China Open last month, I did find some good form and I want to continue with my good form here," he said.

"I think I didn't quite know myself when I was in the world's top 50. Now I know myself better. I'll pick up the good things and throw away the bad things. I hope to get back to that position soon."

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