Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Schoolboy shines in history as youngest golf Masters

A star in the making: Guan Tianlang in action during  the second round of the Masters at Augusta on Friday. —AFP

CHINESE schoolboy Guan Tianlang rocked the golfing world on Friday by making the cut at the 77th Masters despite being penalised one shot for slow play in the second round.

But he needed to endure an agonising wait of several hours until the final grouping came in to be sure that he had survived.

The 14-year-old from Guangzhou, who is the youngest player in Masters history, was sanctioned as he played the 17th hole. That meant he came in with a three-over par 75 and stood at four-over 148 after 36 holes.

Making the cut were the top 50 and level plus all players within 10 strokes and with the halfway lead later established at six-under 138, Tianlang was safely through, right on the limit, to play at the weekend.

He will be the youngest to play on Saturday and Sunday at the Masters and he is the first player from mainland China to make the cut in the year’s first Major.

Tianlang is also certain to win the Silver Cup, which goes to the top amateur who completes 72 holes, as his five amateur rivals all failed to make the cut.

The Asian prodigy became the youngest player in the history of the Masters on Thursday when he carded a one-over 73 that included four birdies and five bogeys.

On Friday, he dropped two shots at the fourth and seventh, as heavy rain fell on Augusta National, to reach the turn in 38.

But with the weather brightening, he then calmly picked his way around the fearful Amen Corner – holes 11, 12 and 13 – without dropping a stroke.

He was parring his way in from there when referee John Paramor walked onto the course after Tianlang had played his second shot and informed him of the penalty sanction, having warned him already on the 13th hole.

“I played pretty good today,” said Tianlang speaking after his round, but before he knew he had made the cut. “I know the rules pretty good. This is what they can do.”

Tianlang became the first player punished for slow play in a Major since Frenchman Gregory Bourdy at the 2010 PGA Championship.

“This still is a wonderful experience for me,” Tianlang said. “I have enjoyed playing in the Masters and I think I did a pretty good job.”

Playing partner Matteo Manassero said he had sympathy with Tianlang given the gusting winds that affected Augusta National on Friday, but he agreed that the Chinese youngster had been slow to play.

“I think it’s the biggest thing he needs to be careful about, because I think he’s ready,” the Italian said.

“When the caddie pulls the club for him, I think he’s ready. But he just sometimes ... takes a little too long. He just asks questions that I think he knows, as well, but just to be sure, just to be clear in his mind.

“This certainly will be a very valuable lesson. He will never forget it for sure, and he will learn from it.”

The leader at the halfway stage, Australian Justin Day, said he had been unaware that he could have eliminated Tianlang had he birdied one of the last two holes as that would have nudged him out of the 10-stroke zone.

Making the cut at such a high-pressure tournament at the age of 14 was beyond belief, he added.

“He’s 14 years old. He’s got everything to gain and nothing to lose, because he’s got a lot of growing to do. He’s still in school.

“Obviously it’s an amazing achievement to get to the weekend at Augusta. And being able to play and experience what he’s going to experience on the weekend, you can’t buy that stuff.

“The only way you can do that is get to the weekend, and obviously he’s got a boatload of talent.

“You know, he’s been here preparing for two weeks. I talked to him earlier, and he seems like a really, really good kid.

“It’s unfortunate that he received the penalty, but he can learn from that and move on and hopefully can play well over the next two days.” — AFP

U.S.-AUGUSTA-GOLF-2013 MASTERS-GUAN TIANLANG China's Guan Tianlang (Front, R) competes during the second round of the 2013 Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, the United States, April 12, 2013. Guan shot a three-over par 75 Friday and stood at four-over 148 after 36 holes. (Xinhua/Hunter Martin/Augusta National) 

The 14-year-old Chinese golfer Guan Tianlang, the youngest player ever to compete in Masters, impressed the 77-year-old tournament with a 1-over 73 show on Thursday. Not the best, but good enough.

Guan was also the youngest Major tournament participant in 148 years. Catching four birdies in the 18-hole competition, the schoolboy won the cheer and applause from all around the field.

"It's the most amazing experience I've ever had," said Guan. "I was a little bit shaky at the beginning, but a good first shot erased my nervousness.

"I feel OK for my day. I made no big mistake and hit a couple of birdies. It feels like victory already."

Guan did better than golf legend Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus when they made their first Masters show (both finished at the score of 76), according to ESPN stats. His 1-over 73 was also better than the first two top Chinese golfers to have played at Masters, Zhang Lianwei (2004 tournament, 77) and Liang Wenchong (2008 tournament, 76).

If Guan finished at the same ranking as Thursday's 46th, he would become the youngest golfer and first Chinese to advance into the second round at Masters.

Spanish star Sergio Garcia shared the lead with Marc Leishman of Australia at 6-under 66. Tiger Woods finished 2-under 70.

"I won't put on too much pressure tomorrow," Guan said. "I will keep relaxing as today and focus on every hit."

"I will be happy if I make the cut," he added.

With the title of Asia-Pacific Amateur Golf Championship he earned last November, Guan qualified as the youngest competitor in the history of the Masters. The previous record was established by Matteo Manassero in 2010, when the 16-year-old earned an invitation after winning the British Amateur Championship in 2009.

Actually Manassero was one of the playing partners for Guan, the other was 61-year-old Ben Crenshaw.
"He played like a veteran today," said the impressed Crenshaw. "Played a beautiful round of golf."

Guan arrived at the court almost a month before the tournament, he enjoyed his practice with golf stars including Tiger Woods, Tom Watson and Ben Crenshaw.

"I was happy to practice with Tiger," said Guan, who picked up golf at the age of four. "Actually my golf career partly started because of him. He is my idol."

Guan was already expected to become "Chinese Tiger" or "Asian Tiger" , but there are still a lot of question marks before the junior middle school student can decide his future.

"Always focus and have fun," said Guan. 

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