Say what you will about Haotong Li, when he wins he does it with some flair. Ten months after almost quitting the game because he was so frustrated with his form, the 26-year-old Chinese is, for the third time and the first time in four and a half years, a winner on the DP World Tour. Leading from start to finish, Li, a member of the international team at the 2019 Presidents Cup, claimed 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 at 22-under 266 on the Nord Eichenried course outside Munich.
All of which sounds relatively simple. But it was anything but for Li, who had plummeted to 460th in the World Rankings at the end of 2021, a year in which she made her first midway cut in October.
With three holes to play in regulation, the eventual playoff stars were tied at 20 under with New Zealand’s Ryan Fox. Fox ended up with three pair, which was nowhere near good enough; both Li and Pieters made two birdies. But if that was exciting enough, it was nothing compared to the bonus hole, the 18th, a 568-yard dogleg right-to-left par 5.
After two shots, Pieters was in a greenside bunker about 35 yards from the pin. A clumsy and long shot. Li, who got lucky when he missed a tree just off the tee and then skirted the water to the right of the green with his second to him, was just off the green’s surface in front of what looked like a relatively easy chip. Li advantage.
After Pieters’ blast to around 15 feet (a reasonable effort under the circumstances), Li returned to his 2021 self by thinning his chip on the two-tier surface, the ball ending up a good 15 yards beyond the cup. . So, you guessed it, Li made the ridiculous and unlikely putt up and over the slope on the green for birdie, a feat that drew a poor effort from a clearly stunned Pieters. Suddenly, it was all over.
“I have no words to describe how I feel right now,” said an emotional Li, whose last win was at the 2018 Dubai Desert Classic, where he memorably beat Rory McIlroy down the stretch. “When I hit that chip, I thought I gave away another opportunity. I can’t believe it happened. Ten months ago, he had literally decided to give up golf. So, in a way, where I am now… it’s golf and it’s hard to describe. I have no idea how I won this tiebreaker. It was a battle of ups and downs. Made a lot of good putts today, especially on the back nine. I already knew it was going to be super hard. I was just telling myself to hold on. Win or lose, I just wanted to play my best. And luckily I did.”
The latter is not entirely true. Armed with a three-shot lead at the start of the final round, Li played erratically over the final 18 holes, his six birdies offset by four bogeys (just one fewer than in the first 54 holes). But 70 was enough (alone) to set up victory over Pieters, whose career is making a similar resurgence this year. After the victory in Abu Dhabi at the beginning of the year. the 30-year-old Belgian has shown more flashes of the form that made him the star of the Ryder Cup-losing European team at Hazeltine National in 2016. This was his third top-10 finish on the DP World Tour since that win at The middle east. .
Elsewhere, at an event that saw perhaps the final kickoff to the DP World Tour for those players who prepped at the inaugural LIV Series event earlier this month, results were mixed. Only two (Pablo Larrazábal and Louis Oosthuizen) of the 11 who were able to play this week but were suspended for the next three DP World Tour events and fined $125,000, finished in the top 10.