Li hopes for breakthrough win in native China


Haotong Li will have an entire nation supporting him during the final round of the WGC-HSBC Champions.

Li has never played a PGA Tour event in the U.S., but he surged into contention with a third-round 66 at Sheshan International. The Chinese phenom now sits in a tie for second, one shot behind Kevin Kisner as he looks for a breakthrough victory in his native country.

"This tournament is so big, it's too big," Li said. "My goal of this tournament would be making the top 10, because making the top 10 will already be a highlight and a milestone for my short career."

The 20-year-old has played in this event each of the last two years, failing to crack the top 30 on each occasion. But he does have some experience in contention thanks to the Tour's developmental programs, having won the Order of Merit on the PGA Tour China circuit in 2014. That earned him a full season on the Tour this past year, earning seven top-25 finishes in 23 starts.

"I started getting used to the intensity because of the way I played on the," he said. "The challenge and the competition was so intense that sometimes I felt like I cannot breathe properly."

Li began the day five shots behind Kisner, but he made up ground quickly, with birdies on each of his first four holes. With Russell Knox still to complete his third round because of darkness, Li will have a spot in the final group Sunday alongside Kisner and 2013 champ Dustin Johnson.

With his father on the bag, Li will certainly be the crowd favorite as he looks to become the first Chinese player to win on the PGA Tour. But when asked if he thinks he can lift the trophy, Li tempered his own expectations with Johnson and Jordan Spieth among the chase pack.

"I don't think so," he said.