A stroppy Sergio Garcia briefly stole the murky spotlight at the European Tour’s inaugural event in Saudi Arabia after the Spaniard was disqualified for angrily scuffing at greens with his putter on Saturday.
The 2017 Masters winner was already out of contention, after two lacklustre rounds saw him only narrowly avoid the cut, and allowed his frustrations to spill over as players in the groups behind complained about the butchered turf at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club.
After finishing with a one-over-par 71, Garcia was called in by European Tour officials, including chief executive Keith Pelley, who subsequently disqualified the 39-year-old.
In a statement afterwards, Garcia said: “I respect the decision of my disqualification. In frustration, I damaged a couple of greens, which I apologise for, and I have informed my fellow players it will never happen again.”
Li, who finished T12th in Dubai last week, holed a European Tour record four eagles to further cement his reputation as one of golf’s rising stars, despite dismissing the tally as “lucky”.
“Very lucky,” Li said afterwards. “Those eagles, especially the last couple of shots, were really solid but except [for] that, honestly, my play, wasn’t that good.
“If [the approach into the first] didn’t go in the hole, it could have been off the green. It’s a very lucky eagle over there. At the 10th, that’s what I wanted to play, but I felt like I pushed it a little bit.
“I got a lucky bounce, kicked it left and it went in the hole, which is very lucky, too.”
Until Li’s run, it appeared as though Johnson might run away with the tournament after the American birdied two of the first five holes, but the world No 3 insisted he was looking forward to a straight duel between the pair on Sunday.
“I thought I played well. I probably played just as well as I did yesterday,” Johnson said. “I gave myself a lot of opportunities and made a lot of good putts. Just holed a few more yesterday than I did today, is the only difference.
“Haotong is a good player. He’s obviously playing well right now. I think it’s going to be kind of a tough match against him tomorrow for the most part, but I’m looking forward to it.”
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