The inaugural Saudi International powered by SBIA saw several players making strong strides in the Race to Dubai with Haotong Li chief among them.
The rising Chinese star finished runner-up to Dustin Johnson in the historic event at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club.
While American Johnson put in a silky display, which included a second round 61, to take the €508,260 winner’s cheque after a captivating final round duel with playing partner Li, the 23-year-old put the disappointment of a late rules infringement penalty at last week’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic behind him to finish two strokes back at 17 under par.
That saw him claim 472 Race to Dubai points in the process to move 68 places from 77th to ninth place in the European Tour’s season-long rankings.
Having entered the final round tied for the lead at 16 under par, there was little to separate the pair over the front nine. Two-time European Tour winner Li got his nose in front with a birdie on nine but Johnson hit back with consecutive birdies on 11 and 12.
Li’s chance looked to have gone when he dropped shots on the 13th and 14th before Johnson opened the door again with a bogey on 16.
But the 2016 US Open champion showed his class with a birdie-birdie finish over the final two holes while Li served further notice of his world-beating potential by calmly rolling in a five foot birdie putt at the last to secure solo second place.
“I think he deserved to win this event,” said Li who had been docked two strokes on the final hole at Emirates Golf Club last week for breaking one of the game’s new rules which says a caddie cannot stand behind a player when he lines up to take a putt – the penalty saw Li drop from tied third to tied 12th.
“It was a very good match, especially the front nine. I wasn’t my best, but I learned a lot and especially those last few holes, it was good for me. I’m very happy to finish solo second this week.”
England’s Tom Lewis produced a blistering final round of 65 which began with five birdies in a row to take third place on 16 under par, claiming 266 points to move from 30th to 11th in the Race to Dubai as the Kingdom hosted its first ever professional golf event.
“I was happy with that,” said the two-time European Tour winner. “We did really well, me and (caddie) John, working out some numbers. I was able to hole the putts and I couldn’t have asked for a better start. Unfortunately, I didn’t kick on from there.
“Hopefully if I can just start better and then carry on doing what I’m doing when I do shoot 1-over, then maybe I’ll walk away with a trophy.”
Australia’s Min Woo Lee entered the Race to Dubai in 28th position after taking fourth place at 15 under par in his first event of the season while France’s Alexander Levy made a huge leap from 161st to 30th after finishing one stroke back in fifth.
Dubai Desert Classic winner Bryson DeChambeau put in another solid display to share sixth place with Ryan Fox, Ian Poulter and Scott Hend at 11 under.
The American moves from fourth place to third in the rankings while New Zealand’s Fox leaps from 72nd to 34th, Australian Hend progresses from 33rd to 25th, and Englishman Poulter solidifies 10th position.
The top 60 players in the Race to Dubai rankings will contest the season-ending DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai from November 21-24.
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