AUGUSTA, Georgia (AFP) –
Guan Tianlang’s historic debut at the Masters ended with a rousing reception from fans gathered around Augusta National’s famous 18th hole on Sunday.
Playing his final round in the company of 55-year old Scot Sandy Lyle, the 1988 Masters champion, the 14-year-old Chinese schoolboy carded a three-over 75 which left him at 12-over 300 for the tournament.
At that stage, he was third from bottom of the 61-strong field that survived the cut, but Guan had already left an indelible mark on the tournament as the youngest-ever player to compete in the Masters and the second youngest in any of the major tournaments.
Bogeys at the first, fifth and sixth saw him reach the turn in 39 and he dropped a further shot at the 11th before finally bagging a birdie at the par-five 13th, his first since sinking a putt from the edge of the 18th green in the first round.
Another birdie followed at the par-three 16th before he bogeyed 17 and parred 18, where he doffed his cap to the fans already clustered around the green in anticipation of the tournament climax still hours away.
“It’s not easy to play here and make the cut and be the low amateur and I think I did a pretty good job,” said Guan, who completed the tournament without a double bogey on his card and without a three-putt.
“I’m a little bit tired today. Still a lot of things to improve. Short game is good, but could still get better and my driving has to get a little bit longer. Yes, everything needs to improve.”
With the leaders yet to go out, the finale to Guan’s first Masters largely went unnoticed, but he had already attracted the crowds and the plaudits by making the cut against all the odds with rounds of 72 and 73.
Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jack Nicklaus had all expressed their admiration for his stroke-making skills and composure in the line of fire, especially when he was handed a penalty stroke for slow play near the end of his second round.
The latest in this long line of Guan fans was rising star Thorbjorn Olesen, his third round playing partner on Saturday, who vaulted up the leaderboard with an impressive 68.
“Unbelievable. He’s a great player,” said the 23-year-old Dane, who is seen as one of the brightest young prospects in the game.
“I mean, every shot he hit was almost at the pin and in the right spots. He could have holed a few more putts today, but he didn’t. But I was really impressed by his game. It was impressive to watch.
“A lot of kids in China must watch and dream that they can be here, also. So I think it’s really good for the game. There are coming more and more good golfers from Asia, so it’s nice for the game.”
Words of praise apart, there was silverware substance also for Guan in the form of the Silver Cup that goes to the top amateur, as long as he completes all 72 holes.
That was already a given since Friday evening as Guan’s five amateur rivals all failed to make the cut.
That leaves the Guangzhou prodigy in illustrious company as past winners of the trophy include Ben Crenshaw, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia.
Guan will return home to China to continue his studies and work on his golf game but he has already said that he will try to qualify for the US and British Opens.
As to when he would turn professional, he said that that could wait.
“Haven’t decided yet, but it won’t be too early as a lot of things need to improve. Nothing to rush.”