China’s Guan, 14, plays like veteran at Augusta

McClatchy news servicesApril 12, 2013 

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Guan Tianlang put off his homework for a few hours, grabbed the snack his mom had made and went out to play with his friends.

His playground was Augusta National and the world had tuned in to watch the 14-year-old from China, the youngest player ever to tee it up at the Masters and the youngest at any major in 148 years.

That’s some play date.

“I felt a little bit nervous on the first tee,” Guan said. “But I hit a great tee shot and, after that, everything feels comfortable. … I just had fun today. Pretty much fun.”

Played great, too.

Guan made a 15-footer from off the fringe to birdie his final hole Thursday, finishing with a 1-over 73.

As the ball rolled into the cup, the crowd around 18 gave the teenager a standing ovation, with two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw leading the cheers for his young playing partner.

Play like that again today, and he’s got a shot at making the cut.

“I’m telling you, he played like a veteran today,” Crenshaw said. “Played a beautiful round of golf. He stays well within himself. He’s very confident and, obviously, beautiful hands. His thought process never got rushed. Very patient. Very, very, very impressive.”

If Guan was nervous, he never let it show. Didn’t show any emotions, really. There were occasional smiles, a fist pump when he rolled a putt in for a birdie, a polite touch of his cap to acknowledge the cheers of the crowd.

“People were very nice to me,” he said. “And I feel comfortable on the course.”

COUPLES KNOWS COURSE

Fred Couples is no stranger to contending in the Masters.

The 1992 Masters champion made 23 consecutive cuts between 1983 and 2007, and after missing two consecutive cuts, he has moved into contention at Augusta for the fourth straight year.

Couples shot a 4-under-par 68 to finish the first round two shots out of the lead.

Couples, 53, led after the first round in 2010 and finished sixth. He was in the top 10 in the second and third rounds and finished tied for 15th in 2011. Last year, Couples was in first after the second round before a third-round 75. He tied for 12th.

“I’m going to come out (today) and do everything I can to keep this thing going, because I know I can play this course,” Couples said.

DONALD NEEDS DRIVER

Luke Donald’s opening round was going smoothly enough when he looked down at his driver on the 14th hole and noticed it had a crack in it. He managed a round of 1-under 71, but he’ll have a new driver in the bag for the rest of the Masters.

“It’s going to be tough,” Donald said. “I’m going to have to get some drivers here as quickly as possible.”

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