Guan, 14, wins Asia-Pacific; will be youngest Masters player ever
Tianlang Guan has twice played alongside Tiger Woods in exhibitions. Now the 14-year-old will compete with Woods at one of golf’s major championships.
The Chinese teenager won the Asia-Pacific Amateur on Sunday to earn an exemption into next year’s Masters. Guan will be 14 years, five months and 17 days when he tees it up at Augusta National next April, becoming the youngest participant in tournament history. The previous record was established by Matteo Manassero in 2010, when the 16-year-old earned an invitation after winning the 2009 British Amateur Championship.
Guan earned his Masters berth with a one-shot victory over Taiwan’s Cheng-Tsung Pan, the world’s No. 12 amateur. Guan finished at 15-under 273 (66-64-72-71) at Amata Spring Country Club in Bangkok, Thailand. He won wire-to-wire, leading by two shots after the first round, five shots at the halfway point and two shots heading into the final round. He was the youngest player in the field this week.
“I’m so excited. I’m really happy to become the youngest player at the Masters and looking forward to going there. I don’t know what’s going to happen there, but I know I just want to do well,” Guan said after holing a 5-foot par putt for the win.
Guan is the first Asia-Pacific Amateur winner from China. He’ll be the second 14-year-old from China to appear in a major after Andy Zhang qualified for the 2012 U.S. Open. Guan and Pan earn exemptions into International Final Qualifying for next year’s Open Championship.
Australia’s Oliver Goss finished third, three shots back, after a final-round 72; Goss, a quarterfinalist at this year’s U.S. Amateur, is scheduled to play college golf at Tennessee later this season. Hideki Matsuyama, winner of the past two Asia-Pacific Amateurs, finished fourth at 10 under par. Matsuyama made the cut at the past two Masters, and was low amateur in 2011.
Guan, who weighs just 125 pounds, averages only 250 yards per tee shot. His small stature made Armata Spring's 18th hole, a par-4 of more than 470 yards, a daunting challenge. He had bogeyed the hole twice in the past three rounds but needed par to qualify for the Masters.
He missed the green with his 3-wood second shot, then chipped to 5 feet with a 60-degree wedge. He used his belly putter – which he began using in June – to sink the par putt.
“I had a great up-and-down on the last hole," Guan said. "I was a little bit nervous over the putt."
He is used to setting age-related records. Guan, who plays at Lion Lake Golf Club in Guangzhou, was the youngest winner of the China Amateur Open last November. His appearance in this year’s Volvo China Open made him the youngest player to compete on the European Tour. He shot 77-79 at the China Open to tie for 150th in the 156-player field. Last July, Guan romped to an 11-stroke victory in the 11-12 division in the Junior World Golf Championships in San Diego. He spends about three months per year training in Southern California.
Pan put pressure on Guan with a sensational Sunday. Pan, who opened the week with 75, shot 67-67-65 in the final three rounds. He birdied No. 1 and had a hat trick of birdies on Nos. 4-6, but bogeyed the ninth. He started the back nine with four consecutive birdies before his charge was again halted by a bogey, at No. 14. He birdied the 15th before coming home with three straight pars.
He couldn’t catch history, though.