April 15, 2013

Tianlang handles learning curve

He faded from view after narrowly making the cut on Friday, but 14-year-old Guan Tianlang was back in the Masters spotlight Sunday afternoon.

He faded from view after narrowly making the cut on Friday, but 14-year-old Guan Tianlang was back in the Masters spotlight Sunday afternoon.

Tianlang shot a 75 on Sunday for a four-day total of 300. That was 12 over par, but more than good enough to earn low amateur honors. He is the youngest player to earn that status.

He qualified for the Masters by winning the Asia-Pacific amateur championship and said this week has been the biggest thrill of his budding career.

“It’s such a great week for me, and I enjoyed it,” he said, adding, “I learned a lot.”

One of the things Tianlang learned was how to play faster. On Friday, he became the first player in Masters history to be assessed a one-stroke penalty for slow play. That penalty nearly knocked him off the cut line with a two-day total of 148 (4-over par).

Saturday, nothing went right for him as he carded a 77 on a round that featured no birdies.

Sunday, he finished with his best nine holes since the back nine on Thursday, carrying a 36 through his final nine.

“It’s not easy to play here, to make the cut and be low amateur,” he said. “I think I did a pretty good job this week and can’t believe it’s over.”

Tianlang said he has received invitations for other events based on his performance at the Masters but isn’t sure where he will pop up next, other than perhaps attempting to qualify for the British Open. His Asia-Pacific championship earned him an exemption into the final round of qualifying for that event.

Tianlang’s partner on Sunday, Sandy Lyle, raved about his game.

“He hits the ball quite a reasonable distance at the moment and remember, he’s only 14,” Lyle said. “He seems to have a good game. His short game is very good. That’s a nice thing to have.

“He’s on the right track right now,” Lyle added. “He’s not a textbook, perfect swing right now, but I’m sure that will be ironed out in the next few years.”

For now, Tianlang said he had homework to catch up on.

“Yeah, probably do that tonight,” he said with a laugh. “I mean, in China, you don’t take the class, they give you the class, so there’s a lot.”

Golden rules

The par-3 No. 12 is known as “Golden Bell.”

It was anything but that Sunday for a pair of unfortunate golfers.

Kevin Na and defending champion Bubba Watson each sported a 10-stroke black eye on the hole, which is guarded by Rae’s Creek and a trio of bunkers.

Na said his failure was getting aggressive in the hope of making a move up the leader board.

“I went for the flag,” he said. “Obviously, you’re not supposed to, but I’m in the back of the field, trying to make a birdie, maybe a 1. I hit a bad shot and I wanted to try it again and hit another bad one.”

Na said the drop zone on the hole isn’t worth the effort.

“You have no room to work with,” he said. “You’re better off reteeing. Sadly, I hit three bad swings in a row, actually four … the last one was no good, too. But it is what it is.”

Watson, who also was out of contention, handled the pain with humor.

“You know, it’s funny, if you’re not going to win, you’ve got to get in the record books somehow,” he said. “So I’m a guy who got a double-digit score on a par-3.”

On the bright side, Watson sunk a 15-foot putt to save the 10.

“Make it 20,” Watson said. “It makes it sound better than it really was.”

Happy-ish anniversary

He was nowhere to be found on the leader board on Sunday, but count Sandy Lyle among the happiest golfers of the weekend.

This year marked the 25th anniversary of Lyle’s 1988 victory at Augusta National. Lyle was paired with Guan.

The 55-year-old Scot qualified for the weekend by carding a 72 and a 73 through his first two rounds. He credited his strange-looking putter, nicknamed the “Black Swan,” for saving his week.

The large putter bore a striking resemblance to a frying pan.

“It hasn’t turned into an ugly duckling yet, has it?” Lyle said after Friday’s round. “I used it at the (Senior) PGA last year and got lots of grief for it, but I finished fourth with it, so I was very happy with it.”

Lyle had a rough Saturday, shooting 81 with a pair of double bogeys to end any thought of contending. He carded a 71 on Sunday, giving him some hope he might eventually duplicate the run for a major that Tom Watson made at the British Open at age 59.

“Well, I think what Tom did really keeps us all going,” Lyle said. “To realize you’re only one week off from 60 and still almost pull off the steal of the century of winning The Open Championship.

“We all wish he had won it in the end, but it gives a lot of hope, yes.”

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