Li wields hot putter in major Texas test

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File photo of Li Haotong. [xinhua]

China's Li Haotong savored a convincing opening victory at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies match play in Texas on Wednesday, taking down last year's third-place finisher and Ryder Cup star Alex Noren of Sweden 5 & 4.

The 23-year-old Li did not trail in his Group 3 match at the Austin Country Club as a combination of hot putting and some uncharacteristic mistakes by Noren gave the Chinese star his first triumph at the elite 64-man showpiece following three losses in his debut last season.

Other Asian golfers in the field - Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat, South Korea's Kim Si-woo and An Byeong-hun and Japanese duo Satoshi Kodaira and Hideki Matsuyama - all lost the first of three group matches.

"It feels incredible, especially tomorrow, you know, going against Brooks (Koepka)," said Li, a two-time European Tour winner. "It's going to make me more comfortable. At least I'm up, got one win already."

With world No 3 Koepka and the fourth member of Li's group, Tom Lewis, halving their match, the Chinese prospect is determined to ride the momentum of his opening victory in the $10.25 million championship.

Li's putting was nearly flawless as he drained lengthy shots of 29 feet, 19 feet and 30 feet for two birdies and an eagle on the fifth, seventh and 12th holes to run out an easy victor.

"Yeah, my putting was good. I rolled good birdies and an eagle. I've been playing solid, and especially today I had a few holes where I was a little bit off but my short game recovery was very good. And my partner (Noren) didn't play his best today," said Li.

Currently fifth on the International Team standings where he hopes to become the first Chinese to play in the Presidents Cup against the US at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in December, Li is looking forward to his match against Koepka, who was named PGA Tour Player of the Year in 2018.

"I just want to play my best and hopefully I can show him my talent," Li said. "My game is getting better, especially my putting. If my putting is better, I think everything else will be better."

Korea's An was disappointed to lose 3 & 2 to Englishman Tommy Fleetwood in his Group 11 match. Playing in his third WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, An was 2-up through seven holes before Fleetwood rallied on the back nine with three birdies over a six-hole stretch.

"It's match play and it happens. I played OK. The eighth hole (bogey) was a little bit of a momentum change and I missed a five-foot birdie putt on nine," said An.

"I had so many good putts, but they didn't drop. That doesn't help in match play. I've been hitting it OK but not making the putts. We'll see how it goes tomorrow," added the former US Amateur champion.

"I'm definitely going to try my best and see what happens. Just seem to be misreading some lines and hitting some that don't want to fall."

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