SOUTHPORT, England — Li Haotong crept into unexpected contention at the British Open with the round of his life on Sunday.
It didn’t win him the claret jug. It did earn him a place at the Masters.
The 21-year-old Chinese golfer became the fourth player to shoot 63 in the final round of the British Open, after Jodie Mudd (Royal Birkdale in 1991), Payne Stewart (Royal St. George’s in 1993) and Henrik Stenson (Royal Troon in 2016). The 7-under round moved him to 6 under for the tournament and after being just two shots off the lead at one stage, he finished in third place and six shots behind champion Jordan Spieth.
Ernie Els, Li’s playing partner, had a front-row seat of a bogey-free round containing seven birdies — four coming in the final four holes — and just 25 putts.
“I could see he wasn’t backing off,” Els said. “You see some guys get a little bit scared, but he kept going. So it was really special to see.”
Li said he felt at home at Royal Birkdale because it was similar to the course he plays in Shanghai, Lake Malaren.
“Unbelievable, actually,” he said. “I can’t explain.
“Glad to see I holed everything. So quite happy out there.”
Li won the Volvo China Open last year and maybe gained more notoriety last month at the French Open, when he threw his putter into a lake in frustration at making a bogey. Minutes later, his mother waded into the muddy water to retrieve the club, slowly returned with it to dry land, only to throw it back into the water because it had been snapped in half by Li.
“Don’t remind me, please,” he told reporters, laughing.
The 63 would have tied a record for major championship scoring if Branden Grace had not set a new record of 62 on Saturday.
“Obviously Branden has the record. It’s absolutely done and dusted. So what he did yesterday broke every record in the book,” Els said. “But today’s round, for what it is, is as good a round. It’s not the same number, but it’s the same quality golf.”
Li shot 82-84 in final two rounds of US Open last month. He earned a place at Augusta National next year for finishing in the top four at Royal Birkdale.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80