Li Posts 65, Leads PGA by 2 at TPC Harding Park

Haotong Li of China has struggled a bit in the past few years, but he’s not exactly the same guy now.

The 26-year-old Li recorded a bogey-free, 5-under-par 65 to take a two-stroke lead over two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka, first-round co-leader Jason Day of Australia and four others midway through the 102nd PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.

“I put on 15 pounds during the layoff (because of the Coronavirus pandemic), and I’m driving the ball a lot farther,” said Li, who has won six times as a pro, but not on the PGA Tour. “Even when I missed the fairway the first couple days, I got lucky because it was only by three or four yards and I had good lies.

“It was cold this morning, so I was playing everything into the greens about five yards farther on some approaches. Everybody was playing to the middle of the green today. I have to keep the momentum and hope my putter stays hot.”

Li, who finished third when Jordan Spieth captured the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, collected five birdies in his first 10 holes and closed with eighth straight pars to finish 36 holes at 8-under 132.

As the afternoon wave played into the evening, Li was seen on the practice tee and driving range, although the TV announcers said he had eaten lunch and gone back to his hotel for a nap before returning to the course.

The sixth-ranked Koepka sank a seven-foot birdie putt on the last hole to shoot 68, while Day followed his opening 65 with a 69 despite a double-bogey 6 on the 12th hole.

“I like playing in majors or a any tournaments where the conditions are difficult, because it separates the really good players from the rest,” said Day, who has finished no worse than seventh in his last three starts.

“Yeah, the course played a little bit … obviously a lot harder today for us in the afternoon. I know that the guys got a lot stronger wind yesterday. So to be able to walk off beating the golf course and shooting 69 today, I was pretty pleased with that.

“I definitely feel good.”

Tommy Fleetwood of England carded five birdies on his first 10 holes in a 64 that equaled low score of the day and also is in the tie for second along with Daniel Berger (67), Mike Lorenzo Vega (68) of France and Justin Rose (68) of England.

Said Fleetwood: “I got to the last hole with a chance to shoot 63, which didn’t quite happen, but it was still good. The golf course is so demanding, so it was nice to play well and get some momentum going to the weekend.”

Cameron Champ of Sacramento collected seven birdies in a 64 and is three shots back in a tie for eighth with Paul Casey of England, who wound up at 67, and first-round co-leader Brendon Todd, who had a 70.

Fifth-ranked Dustin Johnson is tied for 11th after a 67, while seventh-ranked Bryson DeChambeau of Clovis, eighth-ranked Patrick Reed and ninth-ranked Adam Scott of Australia all shot 70 and are in a tie for 25th.

Second-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain carded a 69 and is in a tie for 31st that includes third-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who finished at 69, and fourth-ranked Webb Simpson, who had a 68, while Tiger Woods, a four-time PGA champion who has won 15 major titles, shot 72 to tie for 44th.

Top-ranked Justin Thomas, the 2017 PGA champion, totaled 70 to make the cut on the number along with 10th-ranked Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA, who came in at 68, 2005 PGA champion Phil Mickelson, who had a 69, and Jordan Spieth, who can complete the Career Grand Slam by wining the PGA and also wound up at 68.

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