Even as the big boys had a mixed day, Li Haotong became the first player from mainland China to hold the lead in a Major as he birdied three of first five holes at TPC Harding Park to move into a two-shot halfway lead at the ongoing PGA Championship. He shot a bogey free five-under 65 and is now 8-under 132.
Two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka on Friday had his hip tended to more than once during the round but still shot 68 and is six-under 134 and two behind Li. Tied with Koepka in a big bunch at six-under are former Major winners, Justin Rose (66-68) and Jason Day (65-69) as also Tommy Fleetwood (70-64), Daniel Berger (67-67) and Mike Lorenzo-Vera (66-68).
Tiger Woods ensured he was around for the weekend with a 72 after a first round 68 and that put him at even par 140 at Tied-44th and eight behind the leader. Till the birdie on 16th, Woods was in danger of a free weekend as the cut fell at one-over 141.
Rory McIlroy, playing with Woods, had off four straight birdies around the turn but a triple bogey on the 12th hole, which included a three-putt from seven feet, had him hanging in danger of missing the cut. He ended with 69 and is one-under 139 and T-31.
Justin Thomas, world’s No. 1 player, needed a late birdie on 16th to make the cut on the number.
Li, who was in China during the COVID-19 pandemic and came to the US three weeks, missed the cut at the Memorial and was 75th in the 78-man field in World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
“I didn’t even think I could play like this this week, (I’ve) got no confidence,” he said. “Probably it helped me clear my mind a little bit this week.”
Li added consecutive birdies at numbers 9 and 10 to finish at 8-under par for the day. He went bogey free Friday and has just one to his name through the first two rounds.
But he’s not looking ahead to any thrilling Sunday finish just yet. “I have no expectations actually,” said Li, the 2019 Presidents Cup member for internationals. “Because the last few months I was home doing nothing so I just want to come here and have fun.”
Chasing history, Li’s best finish in a major was third place at the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale when he closed with a stunning 63. He was the 2014 PGA TOUR Series-China Order of Merit champion and is a two-time European Tour winner.
Two dozen players were separated by five shots at the halfway point. The swing in scores saw Martin Kaymer and Zach Johnson miss the cut after being among nine players tied for third after opening 66s.