March 29, 2019: A day after dusting off a Ryder Cup star, China’s Haotong Li extended his brilliant run at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play with a gritty 1-up victory over World No. 3 Brooks Koepka on Thursday.
The 23-year-old Li, who defeated Sweden’s Alex Noren 5 and 4 in his opening Group 3 match on Wednesday, stood tall against Koepka at the Austin Country Club in a closely-fought match which he never trailed.
Li took charge with a six-foot birdie on hole 2 before making the turn with a 2-up lead. Koepka fought back by winning holes 10 and 13 with a birdie and par to tie the match before Li regained a 1-up lead on 15 which he maintained until the end.
“It’s amazing. Today he (Koepka) didn’t really give me many holes as yesterday (against Noren). So it’s a tough match against a tough guy,” said Li, who is bidding to become the first Chinese to play for the International Team in the Presidents Cup against the United States Team in Melbourne, Australia in December.
Li now faces England’s Tom Lewis in his last group match on Friday where a tie would guarantee his passage into the knock-out phase of the US$10.25 million showpiece. A loss to Lewis could drop him in a playoff if Noren, who beat Lewis 4 and 2 today, defeats Koepka for his second win in the group.
After making a disappointing debut here last season with three defeats, Li is growing in confidence as he seeks to maintain his strong run in Austin. “I think my game has improved day by day. So I just want to play my best again (Friday) and see what happens.
“I’ve had some bad positions, but I stayed patient. I did that very well. Lose a hole doesn’t matter, keep the head up. It’s not an easy golf course, especially when the wind is blowing. I holed some 10-foot par putts. I think those putts helped a lot,” said Li, who is ranked second in Strokes Gained: Putting this week.
Li, a two-time European Tour winner, said the match play do-or-die format fits to his liking. “I just feel like I’ve nothing to lose. If lose a hole, play the next one. There’s less pressure. You always can play well on the next one and get something back. You just have to hang in there,” he said.
Korea’s Si Woo Kim and Byeong Hun An suffered their second straight defeats to Matt Kuchar and Louis Oosthuizen respectively to end their hopes of progressing while Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat fought to a gallant 2 and 1 win over American Bryson DeChambeau to maintain his chances of progressing into the next round. Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama tied his match with Chez Reavie while countryman Satoshi Kodaira let slip an early 4-up lead to tie with Webb Simpson, the 2018 THE PLAYERS Champion. Both cannot progress into the next round as well.
As one in a series of four World Golf Championships events sanctioned and organized by the operational committee of the International Federation of PGA Tours, which includes the Asian Tour, European Tour, Japan Golf Tour, PGA TOUR, PGA Tour of Australasia and Sunshine Tour, the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is one of the most exciting and biggest events on golf’s calendar.