China's Li Haotong. Image Credit: AP

Shanghai: Li Haotong has come a long way in the HSBC Champions, which he realised before hitting any of his 64 shots on Thursday that carried him to a one-shot lead.

Standing next to him on the tee was Phil Mickelson, a longtime golf idol. Li was part of the HSBC junior programme when this World Golf Championships event began in 2009, and he posed for a photo with Lefty.

“My idol then, and my friend now,” Li said. “Kind of fun.”

Li enjoyed every minute on Thursday, and he gave the home crowd plenty to cheer with his 8-under 64 to mlead Victor Perez of France by one shot.

Among those two shots behind were defending champion Xander Schauffele and Adam Scott, who both stumbled at the end.

Rory McIlroy had three bogeys on the back nine and was going nowhere at even par until he ran off four straight birdies on the front and got in the mix quick with a 67.

“The last few tournaments I’ve played, I’ve had a bad opening round and then been trying to play catch up,” McIlroy said. “At least now, I’m right in the thick of things from the start, which is a better place to be.”

The HSBC Champions is the final event before Tiger Woods and Ernie Els make their wild-card picks for the Presidents Cup.