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PGA Tour

After breaking into golf’s top 50, China’s Li Haotong hopes to ‘enjoy the pressure’ that comes from beating Rory McIlroy

The 22-year-old tees off at the Maybank Championship in Malaysia on Thursday having risen to 32 in the world on the back of Dubai Desert Classic win

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 January, 2018, 6:38pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 January, 2018, 6:38pm

China’s rising golf sensation Li Haotong hopes his life-changing win over Rory McIlroy will pave the way for another title quest at this week’s Maybank Championship in Malaysia.

The 22-year-old became the first Chinese men’s golfer to break into the world top 50 after he edged four-time major winner McIlroy at the Dubai Desert Classic last week.

Brimming with confidence after outclassing the Irishman, the now 32nd-ranked Li is aiming for another good outing.

“Sometimes one week can change everything, sometimes it doesn’t happen. My game is pretty solid, and I’ve been putting well,” said Li, ahead of Thursday’s opening round.

“This week I’ll try to save as much energy and have low scores. It’s a little bit warmer out here, but I’ll go out and try to enjoy the pressure. The key is good tee shots and to get low scores.”

In Kuala Lumpur three weeks ago, Li gave Team Asia two-and-a-half points in their 14-10 defeat to Europe at the Ryder Cup-style EurAsia Cup.

Top-ranked Henrik Stenson, who played for Team Europe, is expected to contend with Li at the US$3 million event as he seeks his first individual victory on Asian soil.

“Now I would like to get an individual victory in Asia, and this is one of the opportunities,” said Stenson, 41.

“If you’ve got a chance to win a golf tournament anywhere in the world these days, you’ve got to play well and we’ll see if we can get that going this week.”

The world number 12 is in good form coming into the European Tour and Asian Tour event after consecutive top-10 finishes at the Abu Dhabi Championship and Dubai.

Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger will also be optimistic of another good week after creating fond memories at the Maybank Championship last year.

The 32-year-old carved his name into the record books after becoming the first player in European Tour history to notch nine consecutive birdies.

Also in the hunt is Paraguay’s defending champion Fabrizio Zanotti, who produced one of the biggest comebacks of 2017 to win by a single stroke.

Joining in the title race are Thailand’s big hitter Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Englishman Lee Westwood, who previously won the Malaysian Open.