Haotong Li contending at Saudi after last week's penalty; Dustin Johnson leads

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Haotong Li contending at Saudi after last week's penalty; Dustin Johnson leads

Euro Tour

Haotong Li contending at Saudi after last week's penalty; Dustin Johnson leads

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There won’t be many golf fans not rooting for China’s Haotong Li over the next two rounds of the $3.5 million Saudi International.

Li is three shots off Dustin Johnson’s lead just six days after a controversial two-shot penalty robbed him of $98,000 and a share of third place in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

“After a long offseason, I’m getting used to start playing again on the course, and I am especially putting very well,” Li said. “Hopefully I can continue this feeling for the weekend.”

Li dropped from joint third to joint 12th in Dubai after caddie Mike Burrow was adjudged to have lined Li up on the 18th green in contravention of Rule 10.2b (4). The two-shot violation prompted an outrage on social media, with European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley calling on R&A head Martin Slumbers to give referees more discretion on applying the new rules of golf that came into force on Jan. 1.

The 23-year-old has responded with two rounds that have put him in contention for his third European Tour win. Li followed an opening 68 with a 5-under 65 around Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City. He is tied for second place on 8 under along with South African Zander Lombard.

Dustin Johnson is certainly living up to his estimated seven-figure appearance fee. The World No. 3 was a good value in the second round. He established a course record 61, 9 under, thanks to seven birdies and an eagle to jump into the halfway lead on 11 under.

“I like the golf course,” Johnson said. “If I keep driving it like the way I am right now – I switched to the M6 driver this week, and I really like it. I’m driving it really well right now, so if I keep hitting it in the fairway, I’m going to really like this golf course.”

Johnson started on the back nine and quickly got into red figures for the day with birdies at the 10th and the 11th holes. Further birdies at the 15th and 16th took him out in 31.

The 2016 U.S. Open champion birdied the second and then rolled in a 30-foot eagle putt from just off the fourth green to take the lead. Birdies at the sixth and seventh holes took him to 11 under.

The former World No. 1 is clearly the man to beat, but many golf fans will be hoping Li makes up for a rules infraction that might have been consistent with the letter of the law, but not the spirit of the game.

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