SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) — Taking advantage of an early tee-off time and calm winds, Chinese golf star Haotong Li birdied three of his first five holes Friday to take a surprising second-round lead heading into the weekend at the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park.
Li, who missed the cut at the Memorial and finished tied for 74th last week, has a best showing of a third-place at the 2017 Open Championship. For a second day, weather for the morning round was not as foggy, windy or as cold as it was during the practice rounds.
The Chinese star added back-to-back birdies at No. 9 and No. 10 to extend his lead at 8-under par. He played bogey-free golf the rest of the round.
“The last couple days, I’ve been pretty much all hit in the right spots,” Li said. “Even (when I) miss the greens I got a chance to (get) up and down. Also a lot of good lies in the rough.”
Li hasn’t had a top 10 in any of the eight tournaments he has played around the world this year. He also is coming off a disastrous Presidents Cup debut in which he played only the minimum matches.
When asked if he felt added pressure to be the first major golf champion from China, he just shrugged his shoulders.
“I have no expectations actually,” he said with a chuckle. “Because the last few months I was home doing nothing so I just want to come here and have fun.”
He also is sponsored by WeChat, the Chinese social media company that President Donald Trump has threatened to ban in the United States.
When asked about the weekend, Li gave another shrug.
“I still got 2 rounds left — a long way to go,” he said. “If it happens, it happens.”
Day, who has battled a bad back all season long, carded five birdies and no bogeys Thursday for a 5-under par score during the morning pairings.
On Friday, Day birdied three of his first seven holes to charge into a tie with Li at 8-under. But bogey on No. 9 dropped him one shot back at the turn as the wind began gusting.
Day, who would finish the second round at 6-under, was among a handful of players who would take a run at Li’s lead but fall short.
“The course played a lot harder today for us in the afternoon,” Day said. “To be able to walk off the golf course, shooting a 69, I’m pretty pleased with that.”
Meanwhile, Brooks Koepka put himself in position to win his third straight PGA Championship over the weekend by shooting a round of 2-under par 68 and was tied with Day at 6-under. During his round, his trainer was seen stretching out his left hip several times.
“It was nice to finish that round with a birdie,” he said. “It (the course) got pretty difficult I thought from 11 on. The wind picks up and it’s quite difficult. It’s not an easy golf course. You got to find the fairway and the uphill putt and hit it close to the pin. These greens are so good. You can make a lot of putts. I had a lot of good putts today, they just didn’t go in.”
As for being on connection going into the weekend, Koepka said: “I’m pretty happy. I felt like I probably could be 10 (under par) right now. I’ve hit a lot of good putts that just didn’t go in. A couple of them if I just hit them, they are in. I’m driving it pretty well. Iron play I’m pretty pleased with and I like where I’m at.”
Others at 6-under included Daniel Berger, Justin Rose and little known Mike Lorenzo-Vera.
Brendon Todd — who has led more rounds during this COVID-19 shortened season than any other golfer — was the only one of the 11 players who shot 66 or better on the opening round to play in the morning. But unlike Li, Todd could not build any momentum through his first seven holes — carding a birdie and a bogey to remain at 5-under.
Among the early starters, England’s Tommy Fleetwood put together the best round of the tournament so far — a 64. He was in second place at 6-under
“Yesterday we played in some tough conditions,” Fleetwood said. “And I was 3-under through 11 holes. So I wasn’t really that far way. I had a couple bad holes (on the second nine). I was disappointed but still it was all right. Today, I drove the ball real well. If you put it in the fairways here it makes a massive difference. I didn’t give too many shots away.”
Friday was cut day at plus-1 and several big names will not be around for the weekend including Rickie Fowler, Marc Leishman and Henrik Stenson.
Others who barely made the cut but will be playing over the weekend included Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Phil Michelson and Rory McIlroy.