GUAN Tianlang’s hopes of writing a sporting fairytale by making the cut in the 77th Masters at the age of 14 were hanging in the balance after he was hit with a one-shot slow-penalty during yesterday’s second round at Augusta National.
Bidding to become the youngest player to qualify for the final two rounds of a major, the Chinese player was left sweating in the clubhouse after he became the first competitor in the event’s history to be punished over pace of play.
The one-shot penalty, which was imposed by referee John Paramor at the 17th, meant Guan signed for a three-over 75 for a total of 148. That put him inside the projected cut mark at the time he finished, but the teenager faced an anxious wait.
In a change that has been introduced this week, the top 50 and ties will make the cut in the season’s opening major, while there was also a chance that Guan could progress to the weekend under a ten-shot rule in operation.
“Tianlang Guan was assessed a one-shot penalty for violation of Rule 6-7 of the Rules of Golf and the Tournament’s Pace of Play Policy,” said Fred Ridley, the Masters competition committees chairman. “His group, which included Ben Crenshaw and Matteo Manassero, was deemed out of position on No 10. Guan began being timed on hole 12 and received his first warning on hole 13 after his second shot.
“In keeping with the applicable rules, he was penalised following his second shot on the 17th hole, when he again exceeded the 40-second time limit by a considerable margin.”
Manassero was also handed a one-stroke penalty during a round that took the group roughly five-and-half hours to complete. The pair are the first players to be hit with such a penalty in a PGA Tour event since 1995. In that instance, Glen Day was penalised by a stroke in the Honda Classic.
After being given time to compose himself, Guan told reporters: “I respect the decision. This is what they can do. I think they have done it with respect to everybody [in the field].”
Asked how disappointed he’d be if the penalty meant he missed the cut, Guan added: “I think it’s still a great week for me. I’ve enjoyed it and I learned a lot. If I can make it, I would be really happy but, if I didn’t make it, it’s still a great week.”
According to Manassero, his fellow teenager had seemed to be seeking extra assurance from his caddie before committing to shots in a wind that was swirling around the trees.
“I just changed my routine before The Masters and the routine is good,” revealed Guan. “But it was hard today to make a decision in only 40 seconds because the wind switched a lot. But that’s the same for everybody.”
Paramor, the European Tour’s chief referee, insisted he had no choice but to take action against the teenager. “I feel like that in those situations any time they happen, that’s my job. That is what I do,” he said.
Asked if the fact he was taking action against a 14-year-old might have affected his decision-making, he added: “No, because it is the Masters”
By a twist of fate, Manassero holds the record as the youngest player to make the cut in a major, the Italian having achieved the feat the age of 16 in the 2009 Open at Turnberry.
He said: “Obviously it is a hard day for everybody but professional golf is the way it is and now, with this problem in general of slow play, rules officials are very strict.”
Asked if Guan was slow, Manassero said: “Well, he has been timed and he was off time so he was slow, yeah.”
Crenshaw, who’d taken Guan under his wing this week, said: “This is not going to end pretty. I’m sick for him. I feel terrible. He is 14 years old. I’m so sorry this has happened.
“When you get the wind blowing out here, believe me, you’re going to change your mind a lot. It is not easy to get around this golf course the way it’s set up for two days. There’s no question he played slowly at times. But he was working things out. The rule’s 40 seconds and it’s pretty difficult for somebody to do that in a tournament like this with conditions the way they are.”
If Guan made the cut, he would have become the youngest player to achieve the feat in a PGA Tour event, breaking the 56-year-old record held by Canadian Bob Panasik, who was 15 when he did it in the 1957 Canadian Open. Guan’s two-round total left him nine shots behind clubhouse leader Fred Couples, who was on course to be in pole position heading into the weekend for the second year running.
Winner of the Seniors Open at Turnberry last year, Couples followed up an opening 68 with a 71 to sit on five-under, one in front of another former winner, Argentine Angel Cabrera, afrer he signed for a second-day 69. Australian Adam Scott was a shot further back after a 72, with American Jason Dufner (69) and Englishman David Lynn (73) also on three-under.