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14 years old and at ease at Augusta

Guan Tianlang of China, at 14, is the youngest person ever to compete in the Masters.

Guan Tianlang of China, at 14, is the youngest person ever to compete in the Masters.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Guan Tianlang is in good company this week at Augusta National.

He played a practice round Monday with two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw then headed out in the afternoon with Tiger Woods. He has a game lined up today with Tom Watson, an eight-time major champion. Wednesday, he plans to play the Par 3 Tournament with Nick Faldo, winner of six majors.

Can't he play with someone his own age?

Not at this Masters.

Guan, of China, is 14, the youngest to ever play in the Masters and the youngest player at any major in 148 years. He qualified by winning the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship last fall in Thailand, and now he gets a crack at the best in the game, on one of the most famous golf courses in the world.

Nerves? So far, only a smile.

"I'm really excited in the morning when I come out on the course and there's many people here," Guan said Monday, conducting his news conference in English with a Chinese translator at his side in case he needed help. He rarely did.

The kid has shown to be special in many ways.

He went wire-to-wire in the Asia Pacific amateur, and he wasn't rattled on the final hole at Amata Spring Country Club. With a belly putter he had been using for about six months, he calmly rapped in a 5-foot par putt for the one-shot win and a drive down Magnolia Lane — in the passenger seat, of course.

Age seems to have no limits these days in golf.

Tiger Woods was 21 when he set 20 records to win the 1997 Masters. Sergio Garcia was 19 when he nearly beat Woods in the PGA Championship two years later. Morgan Pressel was 18 when she won a major championship on the LPGA Tour. Lydia Ko was 15 when she won the Women's Canadian Open last year on the LPGA Tour.

Even so, this is the Masters. And Guan is the only player in the field who brought his eighth-grade homework with him.

"I knew he was young," Steve Stricker said. "I didn't know he was the same age as my daughter. Yeah, that's remarkable. And I've been telling my daughter the same with this Lydia Ko, who has been playing on the LPGA Tour. I just can't imagine being that young and competing at this level at such an early age. It will be interesting. I'll be interested to see how he does and how he handles it and how he plays."

The only player younger than Guan in a major championship was Young Tom Morris, who was about a month younger in the 1865 British Open.

Guan played in the Australian Open in December and opened with 82 at The Lakes in Sydney. He shot 70 the next day, though the first-round score was enough to imagine what kind of number waits on the 7,445-yard course at Augusta National.

"I would say I'm not long enough, but I think I'm still all right in this golf course," Guan said. "And I drive a little bit longer in Thailand than here, but I think I'm still all right, not a really serious problem."

.FAST FACTS

77th Masters

When/where: Thursday-Sunday; Augusta, Ga.

Course: Augusta National Golf Club

Defending champion: Bubba Watson

Television: 3-7:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday, ESPN; 3-7 Saturday, 2-7 Sunday, Ch. 10

Online: masters.com

14 years old and at ease at Augusta 04/08/13 [Last modified: Monday, April 8, 2013 9:13pm]
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