Li first Chinese male golfer to crack top 50

AFP
Li upstaged four-time major winner Rory McIlroy in Dubai for his second European Tour title – his maiden win was on home soil at the 2016 China Open.
AFP

Emerging star Li Haotong wrote his name in the history books and underlined his prodigious talent as he became the first Chinese men's golfer to claim a spot in the world top 50.

Li surged from 60th to 32nd in the rankings thanks to a thrilling victory at the Dubai Desert Classic on Sunday and highlights China's growing prowess in a sport once banned in the country.

The European Tour said Li was the youngest player inside the top 50 and the 22-year-old now has his sights set on April's Masters after qualifying with his impressive third-place finish at last year's British Open.

Li upstaged four-time major winner Rory McIlroy in Dubai for his second European Tour title — his maiden win was on home soil at the 2016 China Open.

Speaking after his latest and biggest win to date, Li said that he expected the reaction in China "to be big".

His ascension to the higher echelons of the world rankings did not go unnoticed among the golfing fraternity.

Veteran Englishman Ian Poulter, writing on Twitter, hailed Li's "incredible scoring and performance" in trumping McIlroy in Dubai.

"Moving inside the Top 50 is a big deal and first (Chinese) player to do so. Well done," he tweeted.

And Justin Rose, the Rio Olympic gold medalist, also recognized the wider significance of Li's breakthrough, congratulating "my mate" and using the hashtag BrilliantForTheGame.

But Li still has some way to go to match compatriot Feng Shanshan, a major winner and the world's top-ranked women's golfer since November.

However, China's men are coming up fast and the country has two players, Dou Zecheng and Zhang Xinjun, now on the US PGA Tour.

AFP

Jason Day of Australia poses with the trophy after beating Sweden's Alex Noren on the sixth playoff hole to win the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines South in San Diego, California, on January 29, 2018.

In San Diego, California, Australian Jason Day won for the first time in 20 months when he beat Alex Noren in eerie silence in a playoff at the Farmers Insurance Open on Monday.

With the course closed to the public for logistical reasons, Day sealed victory with a birdie at the sixth extra hole after Swede Noren found a water hazard with his second shot at the par-5 18th at Torrey Pines.

It was the 11th PGA Tour triumph for Day, which lifted him from 14th in the world rankings to 10th. The 30-year-old had not won since the 2016 Players Championship when he was ranked No. 1.

"It's been a long time (without winning) so happy to start off the year great," said Day, who also triumphed here three years ago.

"I was close at the Australian Open last year and didn't quite get over the finish line, but it's really nice to get over the finish line here."

Day and Noren could not be separated in five extra holes on Sunday before the playoff was suspended due to darkness.

It lasted just one more hole on the resumption on Monday morning after Noren narrowly failed to clear the pond guarding the green with his second shot.

Day, who laid up after driving into the rough, punched his third shot to tap-in distance for an easy birdie, pretty much ending Noren's chances. After taking a penalty stroke, Noren had to pitch in for a matching birdie, a task that proved too much.

The Swede was seeking his maiden PGA Tour victory. He has won nine times on the European Tour.

He had no regrets at going for the green from 250 yards, and was only a whisker from pulling off what would have probably set up an easy birdie. His ball landed on the bank of the pond but trickled back in.

"I thought if I hit a good one it would be back of the green," he said.

Day, meanwhile, has set his sights on returning to world No. 1. He dominated the game for a nearly 10-month stretch from August 2015 through May 2016, winning seven times, including his first major at the PGA Championship.

But family worries as his mother dealt with cancer, and a recurrent back problem subsequently set him back.

"The major championships always are key for me, I always want to be able to give myself a good opportunity at winning those, but this is the start of the road to get myself back to No. 1," said Day.

"I've got to shoot for that goal because if I don't, then I'm not working hard enough and I'm not doing the right things.

"I need to fight and have a goal for something and that's such a hard accomplishment to achieve that goal. It always keeps motivating me and going along."

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