Belek – China’s Li Haotong is set to create European Tour history after seizing a three-shot lead heading into the final round of the Turkish Open in Belek.
Li, 23, brilliantly holed his second shot for eagle at the 10th and managed six birdies in a blistering eight-under par 63 on Saturday to move to 17-under on the Regnum Carya course.
Defending champion Justin Rose (69) and Frenchman Alexander Levy (66) share second place on 14-under par.
Li commenced his round sharing fifth place and trailing three shots behind Rose but moved one stroke clear of the field with five birdies over his opening nine holes.
The Shanghai-born Li then stood in complete surprise, and with both arms outstretched, when his 8-iron second shot from 173 yards out at the par-4 10th hole ran up the back upward portion of the green only to then roll back down the slope and into the cup.
The 50th-ranked Li then increased his lead to four strokes when he birdied the par-5 12th hole.
“The eagle was the highlight of my day, for sure, and that was quite a special moment for myself,” he said smiling.
“I saw I was leading on the leaderboard and it was quite exciting at that time. I started to think about, yeah, if I make a couple birdies, it’s going to be perfect for tomorrow, but to finish like that is good enough for me.”
Earlier this year, Li claimed a second Tour title in denying Rory McIlroy victory in the Dubai Desert Classic.
Now Li, a management stablemate to the likes of Tiger Woods, Matt Kuchar and Rose, is set to become the first Chinese-born golfer to win twice in a European Tour season.
He would also join countryman Wu Ashun as only the second golfer from China to win three times on the Tour after Li claimed a maiden triumph at the 2016 China Open.
“I definitely got a lot of confidence from beating Rory and since then I have been playing a lot of big events, which has built my confidence also,” said Li.
“It’s going to be an exciting day for tomorrow, and looking forward to go against Rosey.”
Rose’s goal of returning to world number one with victory along the Turkish Mediterranean was a third-day cocktail of six birdies, including three in succession from the fourth hole, but soured by four bogeys.
He sent a ball into the water at the 10th and then ended his round with a dropped shot after finding water off the tee.
“I haven’t driven the ball well all week,” he said.
“I don’t really have a shape that I’m that comfortable with the tee ball. I don’t have a go-to up on that particular hole.”
If Rose needs any reassurance as he looks to successfully defend a title for the first time in his career, it is that he came from two strokes back a year ago to win by a shot.
“Now I’ll have an objective and I can’t change today obviously, so the position I’m in is the position I’m in,” he said.
“It’s not a bad position. Of course, it could have been better. Going into tomorrow, I’m in a good spot.
“At the start of the week, you might have said, you know what, I’ll chance my luck and take that and see how Sunday pans out.”
Levy produced a second straight bogey-free 66 as the 28-year old Florida-based Frenchman seeks a second success this season and the sixth win of his European Tour career.
“I played good golf today and I really enjoyed it,” he said.
“I like to play aggressive and for sure tomorrow, I will need a low one, but I will stay patient and try my best.”
Leading scores after Saturday’s third round of the Turkish Open at the Regnum Carya Resort (par 71):
196 – Li Haotong (CHN) 66-67-63
199 – Justin Rose (ENG) 65-65-69, Alexander Levy (FRA) 67-66-66
200 – Thorbjorn Olesen (DEN) 65-67-68
201 – Danny Willett (ENG) 67-65-69, Sam Horsfield (ENG) 66-67-68
202 – Tommy Fleetwood (ENG) 68-66-68, Thomas Aiken (RSA) 71-65-66
203 – Lucas Bjerregaard (DEN) 70-67-66, Kiradech Aphibarnrat (THA) 66-70-67, Tom Lewis (ENG) 69-63-71
204 – Thomas Detry (BEL) 66-70-68, Martin Kaymer (GER) 66-69-69, Adrian Otaegui (ESP) 68-65-71, Darren Fichardt (RSA) 68-68-68, Jason Scrivener (AUS) 67-67-70, Paul Dunne (IRL) 64-71-69