Masters: Father Time And Time-Challenged Teen

By Mike Hlas, Reporter

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By Grant Burkhardt

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Some eighth-grader was dragging his heels on the grounds of Augusta National Friday afternoon, slowing things down for everybody.

Why do people have to take their kids everywhere? There are adults who are lifelong golf fans who would appreciate the chance to watch this tournament at Augusta National and … wait. The eighth-grader in question was playing in the tourney?

I followed Zach Johnson’s threesome at the Masters Friday, and it was a slow slog on a warm day. Johnson’s round took five hours and 35 minutes. His response upon hearing 14-year-old amateur Tianlang Guan was assessed a one-shot penalty for slow play was understanding.

“Really? A penalty shot even?” Johnson said. “Yeah, I mean, it’s just blustery, it’s hard. That’s very unfortunate. That’s just, I mean that comes with experience there. That stinks. I feel bad for him.”

For a bit, it was feared the penalty might keep Guan from making the 36-hole cut. Everyone who is in the top 50 or within 10 shots of the lead after Friday’s play advances to the weekend.

But Guan’s two-day total of 4-over-par got him through when the tourney leader at the second-round’s end was Jason Day at 6-under.

That’s right. An eighth-grader is playing this weekend at the Masters and you’re not. Now let’s hope he plays at an orderly pace in today’s third round, or the final pairing of Day and Fred Couples might be finishing their rounds at nightfall. They tee off at 2:45 p.m., Eastern time.

Guan began being timed on the 12th hole and got his first warning at 13. He was penalized after his approach shot on No. 17 when he, according to Masters competition committees chairman Fred Ridley, again exceeded the 40-second time limit by a considerable margin.

What, kid, you never played in stiff wind in China?

“A gust of wind,” Guan said, “and everything here is not that easy.”

Hey, the boy is right. Things were tough here for everybody. Even Tiger Woods.

Woods’ short pitch over the water hazard in front of the 15th green seemed headed straight for the hole. Instead, it hit the flagstick and caromed backward across the green into the water. That probably cost him two shots.

Golf is crazy, as Guan is learning. He still managed to shoot a 75 to follow his opening-round 73, and he’s the only one of the six amateurs who qualified for this year’s Masters who will still be playing today.

His score Friday beat Johnson by a stroke. Johnson had a birdie-less 76, and slid to 1-over for the tournament, seven shots out of the lead in a tie for 31st-place. The Masters was plenty windy in 2007 when Cedar Rapids’ Johnson won this tourney, but that doesn’t mean he likes it.

“This is how I remember it,” he said, “watching on television and experiencing it over my, I guess, nine years now. So this is exactly what I anticipated.

“On a day like this, you’re going to hit really good shots that don’t turn out great.”

Guan concurred, saying “A gust of wind and everything here is not that easy. “

Someone forgot to tell Day, an old man at 25 compared to Guan. Day’s 68 was Friday’s best score.

Still, he was a teen not that long ago himself. Day got a sponsor’s exemption at the 2006 John Deere Classic at 18. It was his first start as a pro. He tied for 67th and earned $8,200.

The Deere tends to identify future stars for its sponsor exemptions. That’s how Johnson first got to play in the Quad Cities’ PGA Tour event. Likewise, future U.S. Open champions Lucas Glover and Webb Simpson.

Come to think of it, so did Woods back in 1996. That was 14 majors wins and four Masters green jackets ago. He’s three shots out of the lead. You’ll probably hear his name mentioned a time or two this weekend.

Day tied for second at the 2011 Masters. He is good. There are a lot of good players here, and they aren’t all recently removed from college. Or elementary school.

Like Fred Couples. He is 53. He has won a Masters. That was 21 years ago. The guy’s old by sports standards, even golf’s.

But he hasn’t finished worse than 15th in the last three Masters, and he was the tourney leader at the 36-hole mark a year ago. Now he’s 5-under and a shot out of the lead, and he’s old enough to be Guan’s grandpa.

“The last two days, I’ve driven the ball nicely,” Couples said, “ and so it seems like the same old course for me.”

It’s cool that a 14-year-old made the cut here. It’s cool that a 53-year-old is in the final pairing of the third round. Couples is cool, period.

“You know, I’m cool, but I can be a jerk, too,” Couples said. “So I’m a cool jerk.”

There was a record called “Cool Jerk” by an R&B group called the Capitols that reached as high as No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966.

That was 32 years before Guan was born. I’m not sure that’s cool.

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