In assessing the chances of Asia-Pacific Amateur champion Tianlang Guan making the cut in this year’s tournament, three-time Masters winner Nick Faldo said: “I think it would be remarkable if he shot something like 74-74, given that he is only 14 years old, is playing in his first Masters and isn’t very long off the tee.”
Given that all those things are true, Faldo made what seemed a fair and accurate statement. So how else to best describe the opening round 73 that Guan shot but remarkable? Very remarkable, indeed.
Faldo was not the only observer who didn’t give the kid much of a shot. But the reed-thin middle-schooler from China acquitted himself nicely, playing in a group with two-time Masters winner Ben Crenshaw, with whom he had played a practice round, and 19-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero, besting them by seven and two strokes, respectively.
It was only one round, yet it still must be regarded as quite a feat. And it puts Guan in very good position to become the third straight Asia-Pacific Amateur winner to make the cut at the Masters.
Apparently, that tournament, which was started by the Masters and the R&A to serve as a developmental vehicle for golf in the Asia-Pacific region, is paying immediate dividends – and sending some pretty strong golfers to Augusta.
Guan certainly had a strong round Thursday, recovering from an opening-hole bogey to par No. 2 and then birdie the third. After bogeying two of the last three holes on the first nine, he turned things around with a birdie on the 10th, thanks to a hybrid that he hit tight on his approach from 190 yards.
Guan also birdied the par-5 13th, and then he drained a 15-footer for a birdie on the 18th.
Crenshaw, one of the greatest putters the game has ever known, began clapping for the youngster when that putt dropped, and so did the rows of patrons ringed around the finishing hole. At the same time, they let out a vintage Augusta roar.
Crenshaw, for one, was impressed with what he saw from Guan.
“He played about four of the most delicate pitches I’ve ever seen,” the 61-year-old Texan said. “He played like a 28-year-old journeyman and stayed well within himself. His thought process was never rushed, and he was very patient. It certainly didn’t seem like he had any nerves.”
After his round, Guan seemed as calm as a kid who had just played a friendly game with his friends.
“I felt great today,” he said. “I was a little nervous on the first tee, but then I hit a great tee shot, and after that, I felt very comfortable.”
It was a remarkable start to what could well be a remarkable Masters for Guan.