Tigers Woods shares a smile with practice round partner 14-year-old Guan Tianlang.
(Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY Sports)
AUGUSTA, Ga. - Say this for the kid - he's smart.
Eighth-grader Guan Tianlang of China, preparing to make history Thursday as the youngest player ever to play in the Masters, called on some old sages to help educate him on the intricacies and challenges of Augusta National.
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On Monday, he played a morning practice round with two-time champion Ben Crenshaw. Then he asked Tiger Woods if he could hook up with the four-time champion in the afternoon and got the hopeful response - and then got Woods to sign the bill of his cap.
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On Tuesday, he's playing with two-time champion Tom Watson. On Wednesday, he's playing the Par-3 Contest with three-time champion Nick Faldo. That's Mr. Crenshaw, Mr. Woods, Mr. Watson and Mr. Faldo, as Guan calls the foursome.
"He's not even in high school. He's in middle school. And he's in the Masters," said Woods, who passed along some tips about the golf course and certain pin placements. "It's a pretty remarkable story. We had a good time. The kid is 14. And he's good."
Crenshaw was equally impressed.
"He is the nicest boy. Trust me, he's a lot more mature than 14," Crenshaw said. "He looks like he has his feet on the ground. When you watch him, watch him approach a shot, watch him concentrate ... it's fun to watch that. It was just fascinating to see him play. ... You are going to see lots of him."
Yes, the kid, who is 5-8 and goes about 125 pounds, can play golf pretty well, too. Inspired by watching Woods win the 2005 Masters - Guan was 4 - Guan took up the game. He earned the coveted invitation to the Masters by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship last November. He'll be 14 years, 5 months when he tees off Thursday, breaking the age record set by Matteo Manassero, who was 16 when he played in 2010. Jack Nicklaus and Woods were 19 when they played in their first Masters.
"It's frightening to think that he was born after I won my first Masters," said Woods, 37, who met Guan three years ago on a trip overseas to promote golf to youngsters. Woods remembers the meeting and said "the kid" had a great swing then. "I mean, that's just frightening."
Little, however, frightens Guan. Hardly intimidated by one of the toughest golf courses in the world, nor its setting as the first major championship of the season, Guan said he just wants to have fun this week. And part of that fun will be staying in the Crow's Nest, perched atop the clubhouse and home to invited amateurs.