Say what you love about Haotong Li, when he wins, he does it in style. Ten months after almost leaving the game because he was so frustrated with his form, the 26-year-old Chinese is, for the third time and for the first time in 4 and a half years, winner of the DP World Tour. Leading from start to finish, Li, a member of the international team at the 2019 Presidents Cup, won the BMW International Open title. An eventful birdie on the first playoff hole was enough to beat Belgium’s Thomas Pieters after the pair tied 22-under-par 266 on the Nord Eichenried course just outside Munich.
It all sounds relatively simple. But that was anything but Li, who had dropped as low as 460th in the world rankings at the end of 2021, a year in which he made his first midway cut in October.
With three holes to play in regulation, the eventual playoff protagonists were tied on 20 under with New Zealand’s Ryan Fox. Fox finished with three pars, which wasn’t good enough; Li and Pieters had two birdies. But if that was exciting enough, it was nothing compared to the extra hole, the 18th, a par 5 right-to-left dogleg of 568 yards.
After two shots, Pieters was in a green side bunker maybe 35 yards from the flag. Awkward shooting and distance. Li, who was lucky by narrowly missing a tree off the tee and then rounding the water just off the green with his second, was just off the putting surface facing what looked like a relatively chip easy. Advantage Li.
After Pieters exploded from about 15 feet (a reasonable effort under the circumstances), Li came to his senses in 2021 by thinning his chip on the two-tier putting surface, the ball finishing a good 15 yards above. beyond the cut. Then, you guessed it, Li made the ridiculously unlikely putt down the slope into the green for a birdie, a feat that prompted a poor effort from a clearly dazed Pieters. Suddenly it was all over.
“I don’t have the words to describe how I’m feeling right now,” said an emotional Li, whose last win came at the 2018 Dubai Desert Classic, where he memorably beat Rory McIlroy in the final. straight line. “When I hit that chip I thought I had given it another chance. I can’t believe it happened. Ten months ago I decided to literally quit golf. So kind of where I am now…it’s golf and hard to describe I don’t know how I won that playoff It was an up and down battle I hit a lot of good putts today, especially on the back nine. I already knew it was going to be super tough. I was just telling myself to hang in there. Win or lose, I just wanted to play my best. And luckily, I did. do.
That last bit isn’t quite true. Armed with a three-shot lead heading into the final round, Li played erratically over the final 18 holes, his six birdies countered by four bogeys (only one less than on the first 54 holes). But 70 was enough (just) to set up victory over Pieters, whose career is also in full swing this year. After his victory in Abu Dhabi at the start of the year. the 30-year-old Belgian showed further glimpses of the form that made him the star of the losing European Ryder Cup team at Hazeltine National in 2016. It was his third DP World Tour top 10 since that victory in the Middle East. .
Elsewhere in an event that saw perhaps the last start of the DP World Tour for players who participated in the inaugural LIV Series event earlier this month, the results were mixed. Only two (Pablo Larrazabal and Louis Oosthuizen) out of 11 who were cleared to play this week but were suspended for the next three DP World Tour events and fined $125,000, made the top 10 .