Guan Tianlang, 14, headed to Masters
Guan Tianlang, a 14-year-old middle school student from China who uses a belly putter, will become the youngest player in Masters history next April after he won an Asian amateur event devised to help grow the game of golf in that region of the world.
Guan won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Thailand, shooting a final-round 71 to hold off Pan Cheng-tsung of Chinese Taipei by a single stroke.
He holed a 5-footer for par on the last hole at Amata Spring Country Club to clinch his spot in the Masters.
The youngest player in the field, Guan led wire to wire with the knowledge that a victory would get him to the Masters in 2013. This tournament, which began three years ago with the backing of Augusta National Golf Club and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, exempts the winner into the year's first major and into the finals of International Final Qualifying for the Open Championship.
At 14 years, five months and 17 days, he will be the youngest player to compete in the Masters by more than two years. Italy's Matteo Manassero was 16 when he played in 2010 by virtue of winning the 2009 British Amateur.
"I'm so excited," Guan said afterward. "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, who later Sunday conducted a conference call with reporters in English, is familiar with the big stage. Earlier this year, at age 13, he became the youngest competitor in a European Tour event when he played in the China Open.
He also said he has met Tiger Woods on two separate occasions in China, once at a pro-am for the HSBC Champions in 2010 and again as part of a junior outing a year later. He said he hoped to arrange a practice round with Woods at Augusta National.
Guan had a five-stroke lead through 36 holes that was just two heading into the final round. That lead fluctuated for most of the day and was down to just one stroke over Pan Cheng-tsung, who shot 65, heading to the last hole, a 477-yard par-4 that Guan needed a 3-wood for his second shot to reach.
Gaun, who weighs just 125 pounds, missed the green to the right, chipped up past the hole then made the putt with a belly putter he began using in June.
"I think about it a little bit at the last hole, but I'm trying not to get it in my mind," Guan said, referring to the Masters invitation. "So just want to focus on my game. I got a little bit nervous on the last putt because that's the winning putt. But I just do my own routine and everything is good."
Guan's choice of putter is sure to draw more attention to the debate over the club, which is anchored to the body. The U.S. Golf Association and the R&A are close to announcing a decision on whether to ban such a putting stroke.
Guan said he has spent each of the past several summers training and playing golf in Southern California, staying with families who are friends with his parents.
Australian teenager Oliver Goss, who started the round two strokes back, finished third after a final-round 72 while Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, Asia's No. 1-ranked amateur, was fourth. Matsuyama was the two-time defending champion of the event and made the cut in each of his Masters appearances.
Guan said he has been watching the Masters every year since 2005, when Woods hit a chip from behind the green on the par-3 16th that hung on the lip for a second before it took one last turn and dropped for birdie, carrying him to a playoff win and his fourth green jacket.
Woods is his favorite player. Along with hitting a tee shot with him on the 17th hole during the HSBC Champions pro-am in Shanghai, he met Woods again during a Nike clinic at Mission Hills a year later.
"I think he has a strong mind and a strong heart, so I think that's why he's so great, a good player," Guan said. "I played the hole each time with Tiger, and he knows me the second time," Guan said. "We talk a little bit and I just really like him."
Guan would like to play a practice round with Woods at the Masters "or anyone else, because the guys that go to Augusta are all fantastic players."
Along with getting into the Masters, Guan earns a spot in the final stage of qualifying for the British Open. Pan, the runner-up, also gets a spot in the British Open qualifier.
Guan, who played at Lion Lake Golf Club in Guangzhou, was the youngest winner of the China Amateur Open last November.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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