First of all, my sincere apologies to 14-year-old amateur Tianlang Guan for predicting he wouldn’t break 80 in the first round of The Masters. I am more than happy to be wrong, though. What a performance by the kid, who received an invitation to play at Augusta after winning the Asian Amateur, shooting a one-over 73 in his major debut.
Guan, an eighth-grader from China, beat defending champion Bubba Watson, who struggled in the defense of his title and carded a three-over 75, last year’s runner-up Louis Oosthuizen, Ian Poulter, Hunter Mahan, among others.
The youngest participant at The Masters made a 30-foot bomb for birdie from the fringe on the 18th to cap off his spectacular round.
“I felt a little bit nervous on the first tee,” Guan said. “But I hit a great tee shot and, after that, everything feels comfortable.”
I might be just as impressed with his English as his golf.
Fred Couples, who is on the other end of the age spectrum at 53, told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi in his post-round interview that Guan’s 73 was better than his 68.
Well, I’m not sure about that — shooting a 68 at age 53 is pretty darn good. As I said yesterday, you can always expect Couples to make an appearance on the leaderboard early at The Masters
Remember when you were 14? Yeah, I was just trying to break 80. Well played, kid. We’re all cheering for you to make the cut.
“[Guan] played like a veteran today, a 28-year-old journeyman whose been around the block and made a ton of cuts,” said the 61-year-old, two-time Masters champion. “He played a beautiful round of golf. He stays well within himself. He’s very confident and his thought process never got rushed. Very patient. Very impressive.”
Crenshaw, as great a putter as there has ever been in the Masters, raved about Guan’s short game.
“[Guan] played about four of the most delicate pitches you have ever seen,” he said. “It must help to have 14-year-old nerves.”
And then, Manassero:
“He did all he had to do,” said Matteo Manassero, who also played with Guan on Thursday and who knows something about being a young Masters participant after making his first start here at 16 in 2010. “Obviously not having that much distance, he needs to keep the ball in play, and he’s done that well.
“He’s made some nice putts and he recovered well. I think 1-over was a good score for him. But you can see he can do it tomorrow again without any problem. I think it’s a good potential.”
*A year ago Sergio Garcia said he wasn’t good enough to win a major. Now, he has a share of the first-round lead with Marc Leishman at The Masters. Garcia wasn’t dripping with enthusiasm after firing a six-under 66.
“Well, obviously it’s not my most favorite place, but you know, we try to watch it as much as we can each time we come here,” he said, via GolfDigest.com. “Sometimes it comes out better than others.”
“I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s fair,” he said following the final round that year. “It’s too tricky … you get mud balls in the middle of the fairways.” Asked how he’d change it, Garcia replied, “I don’t care, they can do whatever they want. It’s not my problem. I just come here and play then go home.”
Well, I’m still a Sergio fan. I like that he speaks his mind. He makes things interesting, that’s for sure. I hope he’s able to maintain his composure for three more rounds, but that might be asking for a lot.
*Phil Mickelson got off to a slow start, but he lit up the back nine. I expect him to have a low round tomorrow. Mickelson complained that Augusta National played too soft on Thursday, which allowed more margin for error. He wants it fast and firm. I expect the Green Coats will pump up the Sub Air system.
*Tiger Woods dropped at least one F-bomb, but what else is new. He’s right where needs to be — ready to pounce. Woods shot a two-under 70. He only made one birdie on the back nine and slipped a shot with a bogey on the 14th. Like Phil, he also wants things to speed up.
“I thought the greens were a little bit tough … they didn’t have the rollout,” said Woods, via Reuters. “A couple of putts, we were talking about it in our group, that just weren’t that fast.
“The wind picked up in the middle part of the round. Got a little bit swirly there at Amen Corner, as usual. But overall I think the biggest challenge today was just the speed of the greens. They just weren’t quite there.”
It also appeared to be a very good day out for Vonn, who is recovering from knee surgery but made the trip to Augusta to support her boyfriend.
A smiling Vonn, sporting a wide brimmed hat, tan sun dress and a leg brace, made her way down the first fairway to watch Woods tee off then, according to reports, retreated to one of the hospitality areas to ice her knee and drink a glass of “chilled champagne.”
It marked the first public appearance for the sports world’s newest power couple since announcing last month that they were dating.
*Rickie Fowler double-bogeyed Nos. 1 and 10, but he countered with seven birdies and still managed to shoot a solid four-under 68 to keep his major hopes alive. Fowler is T4 along with David Lynn, Matt Kuchar, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman.
*Dustin Johnson is five-under and just one shot behind Garcia and Leishman. His girlfriend Paulina Gretzky was in the gallery cheering him on at Augusta today.
*Padraig Harrington and Nick Watney struggled and shot a pair of 78s. Yikes.
(AP Photo/Darron Cumming, Charlie Riedel)