Li leading Asia's charge for Presidents Cup berths

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File photo of Li Haotong.

It's time to shine for China's Li Haotong and Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

The Asian duo will have the perfect opportunity this week to show newly installed International team captain Ernie Els why they might be prime candidates for the 2019 Presidents Cup.

Li and Aphibarnrat will represent a strong Asian contingent that also includes Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, India's Shubhankar Sharma and Korea's Siwoo Kim, in the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club in Texas, starting on Wednesday.

Li, ranked 40th in the world, narrowly missed qualifying for the Presidents Cup last year but hopes to maintain his push to become the first Chinese golfer to compete in the prestigious event.

"Yeah, I've wanted to play since the last time I was nearly there but I didn't get in," said Li.

"It was quite close. I just need to keep playing well and then hopefully make it next year," added the 22-year-old, who won the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in January after prevailing in a head-to-head duel with Rory McIlroy.

"As no Chinese has played in the event before, I want to be the first. I think it would be a great time for Chinese golf and for my country,"

South African legend Els, who was named International team captain last week, enjoyed a front-row seat when Li shot a stunning 63 in the final round at last year's British Open at Royal Birkdale where the young Chinese finished third.

Els, who played with Li on that glorious Sunday, said: "That's not the same number as Branden Grace (who shot a 62 in the third round), but that's as good a round.

"Li had a nice attitude. You could see he was not backing off. The wind was picking up too. He didn't miss a putt. He did everything he could."

The slender Li will have another chance to impress Els when he makes his debut at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, which is exclusive to the world's leading 64 golfers. He finished tied for 54th at last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Like Li, Aphibarnrat was close to earning a spot on the International roster three years ago. With his career trending upwards, the former Asian Tour No 1 is currently ranked No 31 in the world.

"It would be an honor to play in the Presidents Cup," said Aphibarnrat, who finished tied for fifth at the WGCMexico Championship earlier this month.

"Everyone wants to be on that team, especially the Asian players.

"I'm always proud to represent Thailand, which is a small nation. To be part of the big events and to play on behalf of Thailand is a big honor."

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan believes the naming of Els as International captain and Tiger Woods as US captain will inspire players to fight their way into the next Presidents Cup, which will be played at Australia's Royal Melbourne Golf Course in December of next year.

"I think it's a huge impact, because those guys are going to bring the world at large to the Presidents Cup - as they have consistently done every time that they have competed on a global stage," said Monahan.

"In doing so they're likely going to be bringing forward future stars, and if you look at what's happening in the game right now internationally, you got Li Haotong inside the top-40 in the world from China, and Shubhankar Sharma from India who has played exceedingly well.

"We don't know who is going to come forward between now and then, but it's likely that stars from new countries are going to come forward with Ernie Els and Tiger Woods, leading their respective teams."

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