Guan shows resolve chasing cut line after penalty

Tianlang Guan plays in the rain during the second round of the 77th Masters.

Tianlang Guan plays in the rain during the second round of the 77th Masters.

— The scene was incredible. As Tianlang Guan approached the 17th green, European Tour rules official John Paramor walked up to the eighth-grader and showed him his stopwatch. Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National's Competition Committee, sat in a nearby cart with a cellphone up to his ear.

Could it be? Did the greencoats of Augusta National really just hand out a slow-play penalty to Boy Wonder? Guan two-putted for what would have been a par. He walked to the back of the green, where he rocked back and forth on his heels. He then shook his head one time in disbelief. That’s about the extent of the physical reaction made by Guan, who with the one-shot penalty made 5 on the hole and slipped to 4 over for the tournament.

Guan hung back on the green to inform Ben Crenshaw of the situation, and then walked up to the 18th tee and split the fairway. After his approach found a greenside bunker, he hit the flagstick and then rolled in a 5-foot par putt to finish at 4 over par for two rounds at the 77th Masters Tournament.

He hovered at the cutline and had to wait several hours to find out whether he would be playing on the weekend. Mercifully, Guan got in on the number. No one wanted to see the youngster miss weekend play because of a slow-play penalty, even if it was deserved.

“I’m sick,” said Crenshaw, a two-time Masters champion, after the round. “I’m sick for him.”

For Guan to save par on the 18th hole and give himself hope to make the cut was an incredible display of focus for any player, let alone a 14-year-old representing a country of more than 1.3 billion on golf’s grandest stage. The incident likely will heighten Guan’s fame in Asia, where there’s a pipeline of talent that’s bursting at the seams.

“That shows you the fight in the brother,” said Carl Jackson, Crenshaw’s longtime Augusta caddie.

Jackson, working his 52nd Masters, also said rules officials could’ve “burned him yesterday.”

Anyone who watched Guan play the last 36 holes can say with certainty that he’s on the slower side of slow. When it was Guan’s turn to hit on the par-3 12th, he stood off the side of the tee for so long that members of the gallery questioned whether or not anyone in the 9:06 a.m. group knew whose turn it was to hit.

Guan never seemed to be off in la-la-land, staring at the clouds or smelling the azaleas. He was dialed into his round at all times. Here was an incredibly imaginative 14-year-old kid, playing in his first Masters, taking his time on every shot. He pulled off one brilliant save after another and left nothing to chance.

Matteo Manassero, the 19-year-old Italian who played alongside Crenshaw and Guan, said pace of play is Guan’s biggest concern. The problem, Manassero said, is that Guan asks too many questions before he pulls the trigger. Not because he doesn’t know the answers, but just to be clear in his mind.

“We all feel sorry,” Manassero said. “But this is the way professional golf goes. . . . This will end up being a great experience for him.”

Guan spoke with ESPN after his round and said that he respected the decision of the rules officials. He said he had changed his routine before coming to the Masters, but found it difficult to make a decision in the allotted 40 seconds because of shifting winds.

“I think my routine is good,” he said. “The only problem is I have to make the decision.”

Take for example the par-4 ninth. After Guan hit his tee shot right under a large Georgia pine, he left his approach shot short of the green. Guan did as most pros would, walking up to the green to assess the back-left hole location. Back at his bag, Guan, who was next to hit, took a few practice swings without a club, getting a feel for the shot. He then pulled a club and asked his caddie to clean it. Guan then took a few swipes at the ground. He gave the club back to his caddie for a second cleaning. Only then did he hit a beautiful pitch shot that chased up the hill and onto the back fringe before trickling back down toward the flag, coming to rest within 3 feet of the hole. He walked away with a par and the admiration of fans, but it was a foreshadow of things to come.

On the par-4 10th hole, Guan’s group was deemed out of position. Guan was timed for the first time on the 12th hole and received his first warning after hitting his second shot on the par-5 13th. There was a conversation with Paramor walking to the 17th tee after Guan took lengthy time on the 16th green over a putt Crenshaw called “diabolical.” The penalty was assessed in the 17th fairway after his second shot exceeded the 40-second limit “by a considerable margin,” according to a statement released by Augusta National's Ridley.

Crenshaw, who pointed out that they now play in threesomes rather than twosomes at Augusta for the first two rounds, was upset to see a young player whom he gave such high praise be pricked by something so rare – and seemingly arbitrary in professional golf – as a slow-play penalty on a day that brought pouring rain, strong winds and a sudden burst of blue sky.

An Augusta National official, when asked whether the Masters had ever penalized a player for slow play, responded, “None that we are aware of.”

Did Paramor feel like he had no choice?

"I feel that every time I go out," he said. "That’s my job. It’s what I do."

As Crenshaw said, this part wasn’t pretty.

“He's 14, on a world stage, a beautiful player and he's played some beautiful golf,” Crenshaw said. “I told him I'm so sorry.”

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