ICYMI at The Open: Haotong Li learns to play the waiting game

Haotong Li, right, shakes hands with Ernie Els after completing a round of 63 that vaulted Li to third place, the highest finish ever by a Chinese player at a major championship. Andrew Redington/Getty Images

SOUTHPORT, England -- It was a case of deja vu for China's Haotong Li when he completed a final-round 63 Sunday at the Open.

In theory, he had merely posted a tremendous score -- one shot outside Branden Grace's record low for a major, which was all of a day old -- but it soon became evident that the leaders were struggling on the course and his 6-under total of 274 might prove tough to beat.

It was a throwback to early May for Li. Back then, he entered the final round of the Rocco Forte Open in Sicily T-11 and eight shots back of the lead. Even when he signed for a 5-under-par 66 in blustery conditions, it seemed far-fetched for him to think of victory, with the leaders five shots clear with four holes to play.

He duly packed his bag, had it lifted onto the shuttle bus to the airport and boarded with his caddie. Whereupon European Tour staff came running to drag them off.

Leader Alvaro Quiros was struggling and chief chaser Zander Lombard was faring little better. A giggling Li stood outside the bus, gasping every time his phone reported the latest bogey or double-bogey Quiros and Lombard were recording.

Alas, they remained one clear of 21-year-old Li on that occasion, but on Sunday he didn't take the risk. There was no shuttle bus. No packing of the bags. There was ultimately no win either -- that went to Jordan Spieth -- but it was one of the quirkiest repeat performances of any season ever.

Rose continues his Open struggles

It remains one of the Open's great riddles: How is it that Justin Rose hasn't yet bettered the T-4 he recorded in his debut at Royal Birkdale as a 17-year-old amateur?

He rounded off that week in 1998 with a stunning holed wedge shot in front of galleries at the 18th, who immediately took him to their hearts. It seemed impossible to believe that he didn't have a sparkling career ahead of him.

Yet after turning pro almost immediately, he famously struggled initially, missing 21 cuts in a row.

Now, he is the winner of 18 tournaments worldwide, the 2013 U.S. Open champion and the 2016 Olympic gold medalist, but he has added only one further top-10 finish to his Open Championship resume in 15 attempts as a pro.

It's something of a joke among the caddies that you hope to avoid a first-round tee time near Rose's (it's widely known his luck is poor with the weather), but that was little excuse this week. The enigma endures.

A green tinge to the Silver Medal

Speaking of Rose, in winning the Silver Medal for low amateur at this year's Championship, Alfie Plant maintained the recent trend of English winners of this honour.

Moreover, he maintained the pattern of that prize going to herbaceous-themed golfers, following the success of Rose in 1998 and Chris Wood in 2008.

Plant, 25, closed with a round of 3-over-par 75 to end the week T-62 and is now preparing to turn professional, but this is a week he will never forget.

"It's been absolutely amazing," he said afterward. "It sent shivers down my spine walking up the last."

The boyfriend of Daisy Meadows -- we're not making any of this up -- Plant finished two shots behind Toby Tree and one ahead of Gary Woodland.

A valiant defense by Stenson

It's easy to be flippant about the performance of a defending champion, and Henrik Stenson was never genuinely in the hunt for back-to-back wins, only briefly offering a reminder of his skills with a third-round 65.

But the Swede's T-11 finish is actually the third-best attempt at a shielding of the Claret Jug in the 21st century, with only Padraig Harrington and Tiger Woods bettering him (they both successfully completed the defense).

Everyone else? Six top-25 finishes, but no one finished higher than Stenson.

Leishman and Johnson enjoy the seaside

While the drama played out at the top of the leaderboard, two players preserved strong Open records with excellent final-round performances.

Marc Leishman's weekend finish of 66-65 earned him a third top-six finish in the past four championships, to go with T-5 in 2014 and a playoff defeat at St. Andrews 12 months later.

Meanwhile, Zach Johnson had an up-and-down tournament (75-66-71-66) but ultimately finished T-14, his sixth top-20 finish in his past seven Open starts (including victory in 2015).

"This tournament kind of suits me," Johnson said with a laugh afterward.