Jeddah: Dustin Johnson and Haotong Li will go head-to-head in a final round showdown at the Saudi International powered by SBIA, after an historic eagle surge by Li saw the two-time European Tour winner join the American at the top of the leaderboard late on the third day.
Playing in Saturday’s penultimate pairing ahead of Johnson, China’s Li threw down the gauntlet early with a chip-in for eagle on the first hole at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC). A double bogey on the par-four sixth hole threatened to derail Li’s momentum, but he immediately recovered with a birdie on the par 4 seventh and another majestic chip-in for eagle on hole 10.
A third eagle of the day on hole 17 saw Li become the first player to score a hat-trick of eagles on par 4s in the same round of a European Tour event since 1999. His fourth eagle of the day on hole 18 made him the first player to score a quartet of eagles in a European Tour round since Mark Pilkington at the 2007 Singapore Masters.
“I think I was very, very lucky today,” said Li. “The last couple of shots were really solid, but except that, honestly, my play wasn’t good. I want to play my best and enjoy myself in the final round,” said Li, who carded a 62 to finish 16-under par.
Johnson had led the first-ever European Tour event held in Saudi Arabia throughout the third round following another assured display of power and finesse. However, Li’s fourth and final eagle saw him elevated to co-leader alongside Johnson, who was later forced to scramble for par on 18 after his tee shot found water.
“Four eagles in a golf tournament is pretty good, but four in one round, I’d take that any day,” said Johnson. “If I want to get it done tomorrow, I’m going to have to play really good golf. Haotong is a good player and he’s been playing well. I’ll just go out, play my game and not worry about what he’s doing. I’m looking forward to it.”
Former US Masters champion Sergio Garcia, meanwhile, was disqualified from the event for intentionally damaging the greens.
Garcia apologised in a statement posted on the European Tour website. “I respect the decision of my disqualification,” he said. “In frustration, I damaged a couple of greens, which I apologise for, and I have informed my fellow players it will never happen again.”