European Tour

Eagle flurry sends Li joint top in Saudi Arabia

Haotong Li (AP)
Haotong Li (AP)

King Abdullah Economic City - Li Haotong made four eagles, including a record three on par-4 holes, to catch up with former world No 1 Dustin Johnson on top of the leaderboard at the end of the penultimate round of the inaugural Saudi International on Saturday.

The 23-year-old Chinese star was in the news recently when he was controversially penalised two shots on the final hole of the Dubai Desert Classic under the new Rules of Golf after his caddie was deemed to have lined up his putt. The penalty had dropped him from tied third place to a share of 12th position.

On Saturday, at the Royal Greens Golf Club, Li was in rampant form as he started with a chipped-in eagle on the par-4 first hole, and then chipped in for another eagle on the 10th hole. He then drove the par-4 17th hole for his third eagle, and then made his putt from eight feet on the par-5 18th after reaching the green in two.

It was the first time since the European Tour started keeping records in 1999 that a player made three birdies on a par-4 hole, and his four eagles matched the effort of Mark Pilkington in the second round of the 2007 Singapore Masters. On the PGA Tour, Willie Wood (1990 Pebble Beach Pro-Am, third round) and Scott McCarron (1995 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, second round) have made four eagles in a single round.

Li finished on eight-under par 62 and caught up with Johnson (65) at 16-under par 194. England's Tom Lewis (62) moved to third place on his own, but he was five shots behind the leaders at 11-under 199.

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Johnson seemed to be powering ahead with four consecutive birdies around the turn - hitting his approach shot on the difficult and long par-4 ninth to four feet, and then getting to similar length with a chip on the 10th and his tee shot on the 164-yard par-3 11th. On the 12th, he drained a long 30-footer putt to go four ahead at that stage.

But with back-to-back eagles on the 17th and 18th holes, Li finally caught up with the American.

"I think I was very, very lucky today. Those eagles, especially last couple shots, was really solid, but except that, honestly, my play wasn't that good. But I did made a lot of par putts," said Haotong.

"On the first hole, the lie wasn't that great, and firm grain. If it didn't go in the hole, it could have been off the green. And on the 10th, I felt like I pushed it a little bit. Got a lucky bounce, kicked it left and went in the hole, which is very lucky, too."

Johnson, who shot a 61 on Friday, could not capitalise on the 17th and 18th holes which were playing easy and downwind, but he was happy with his golf.

"I thought I played well. Probably played just as well as I did yesterday. Gave myself a lot of opportunities. Made a lot of good putts. Just holed a few more yesterday than I did today," he explained.

"I heard about Haotong's four eagles when I got done. That's pretty impressive. Four eagles in a golf tournament is pretty good, but four in one round... I'd take that any day."

New Zealand's Ryan Fox and Frenchman Alex Levy both shot rounds of 67 to move to tied fourth place at nine-under par, seven behind the joint leaders.

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