Omega Dubai Desert Classic champion Li Haotong becomes first Chinese golfer to reach top 50

Li held off McIlroy by one shot to win the title at Emirates Golf Club on Sunday.

Li Haotong has become the first Chinese golfer to reach the top 50 in the world rankings after his victory at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on Sunday.

Li held off the challenge of former world No 1 Rory McIlroy at Emirates Golf Club to clinch his second European Tour title. Li has now climbed from No 60 in the rankings to 32, and at 22 years old, is the youngest player in the top 50.

Speaking after his latest and biggest win to date, Li said that he expected the reaction in China "to be big". His ascension to the higher echelons of the world rankings did not go unnoticed among the golfing fraternity.

Englishman Ian Poulter, writing on Twitter, hailed Li's "incredible scoring and performance" in trumping McIlroy in Dubai.

"Moving inside the Top 50 is a big deal and first (Chinese) player to do so. Well done," he tweeted.

And Justin Rose, the Rio Olympic gold medallist, also recognised the wider significance of Li's breakthrough, congratulating "my mate" and using the hashtag BrilliantForTheGame.

But Li still has some way to go to match compatriot Feng Shanshan, a major winner and the world's No 1 ranked women's golfer since November.

However, China's men are coming up fast and the country has two players, Dou Zecheng and Zhang Xinjun, now on the US PGA Tour.

Li will now be aiming to emulate the past two Dubai Desert Classic winners by winning the US Masters in April. Danny Willett, the 2015 Dubai champion, and last year's winner Sergio Garcia both won at Augusta after succeeding in the UAE.