Guan impresses Tiger & Co. without hitting a shot

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Associated Press

Posted on April 9, 2013 at 7:06 PM

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — At 14, Tiger Woods was running cross-country and trying to stay on top of his homework. Adam Scott was psyched to finish second against a bunch of 17-year-olds. Rory McIlroy had thoughts of playing in the Masters, but it was the European Young Masters.

The world's best players are marveling at Guan Tianling, the 14-year-old from China who will be the youngest to ever play in the Masters this week, and the youngest player at any major in 148 years.

"I mean, this kid can't play high school golf. He's not in high school yet," Woods said Tuesday.

Guan's presence isn't an expansion of Augusta National's Junior Pass program, which allows kids 8 to 16 to tag along to the Masters for free with an adult. He earned his spot here by winning the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship last fall, a tournament he led wire to wire.

He also shot a 70 in the second round of the Australian Open last December, and he impressed Woods with his poise when they played a practice round Monday.

"He's so consistent," Woods said. "He was hitting a lot of hybrids into the holes yesterday, hitting them spot-on, right on the numbers. He knew what he was doing, he knew the spots he had to land the ball and to be able to pull it off. Good scouting, good prep, but also even better execution.

"For a 14-year-old to be able to come out here and handle himself the way he's done is just unbelievable."

Augusta is notoriously rough on first-timers; no rookie has won since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, and the best finish for an amateur is runner-up. So just imagine arriving here as a teen-ager, rubbing shoulders with players you've looked up to for years at one of the most famous courses in all of golf.

"I don't know how I would have been able to handle the enormity of the situation as a 14-year-old mentally," Scott said. "Obviously he can play very, very good golf at 14 — better than most. But I just don't know how you handle the pressure and the nerves at that age. I can't think back to how I would have done that."

At that age, Scott was simply thrilled with his second-place finish at the Queensland Juniors.

"That ... was a big deal, because I was playing against 17-year-olds," Scott said. "So that was a big step for me."

McIlroy and Woods were golf prodigies. But even they couldn't fathom playing Augusta National at Guan's age.

"I was having breakfast with my dad and coach this morning and I was just like, '14 years old and playing in the Masters,'" McIlroy said. "I think I played my first Masters when I was 19."

But, having spent some time with Guan, Woods said he thinks the teen-ager has the right approach.

"He's just taking it all in," Woods said. "He's going to learn and become so much better because of this experience, and he's certainly going to grow as a player and as a person."

Good thing, because has a lot of golf left.

"You're playing in the Masters at 14. He could potentially play, I don't know, 60 Masters," McIlroy said. "What's this, the 77th? So he could actually double it nearly."

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LEFTY'S RUST: Phil Mickelson is worried about rust.

A quirk in the PGA Tour schedule left Lefty idle last week, and he's feeling some angst about playing the Masters after a layoff.

"I love this tournament so much, and I'm nervous because I haven't been in competition ... it will be 10, 11 days, I guess, as opposed to three," the three-time Masters champion said. "That's what I'm nervous about, just those first opening five or six holes, being mentally tuned in. That's what I care about.

"Because I'm aware of it, I'm going to work hard on it to make sure that I am," he added. "But it's always a challenge those first five or six holes when you haven't been in competition to be really mentally focused and sharp."

Mickelson traditionally plays the Houston Open the week before the Masters so he arrives at Augusta National in prime competition form. But Houston swapped dates with the Texas Open because the San Antonio tournament can't end on Easter Sunday. Conditions at the Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio have been tight and windy in recent years — the exact opposite of the set-up Mickelson likes when he's preparing for the Masters.

So he came to Augusta National on Friday instead, and spent the weekend around the green and working on shots he knows he'll need.

"I had some great days here," he said. "The course is very close to tournament setup, so I'm hopeful that I'll get off to a good start and take that preparation and shoot a low score. But I am a little bit nervous."

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ON THE BAG: This will be a working vacation for Caroline Wozniacki.

The tennis star accompanied boyfriend Rory McIlroy to this year's Masters — "Road trip to Augusta started!" she said Sunday on Twitter — and McIlroy said Wozniacki will caddie for him in Wednesday's Par 3 Tournament.

"Yes, Caroline will be on the bag tomorrow," he said Tuesday.

The Par 3 is one of the Masters' most endearing traditions, a light-hearted event for fans and players alike. Many players have their kids — or grandkids, in some cases — caddie for them, and there are few things more adorable than watching youngsters roam the greens in Augusta National's traditional white coveralls or proudly tote carry-bags.

Bubba Watson's son, Caleb, isn't even old enough to walk yet, let alone carry a golf bag. But the defending Masters champion said the 1-year-old will still be his caddie for the Par 3.

Or maybe it will be the other way around.

"We'll be carrying him," Watson said. "So I guess we'll be caddying him."

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ROOKIE MISTAKE: Cheyenne Woods knew from a young age she wanted to be a golfer. Good thing she didn't want to be an arborist.

Tiger Woods' niece mistakenly referred to the stately trees that grace the entrance to Augusta National as oaks in a post on the Back9Network.

"Magnolia Lane was just how I had imagined it from pictures and television," wrote Woods, who is chronicling her first trip to Augusta National. "The large oak trees lining and hanging over the road as it leads to the clubhouse is an image so unique to Augusta National."

The trees, of course, are magnolias. Hence the name, "Magnolia Lane."

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