International incident averted. The kid is sticking around for the weekend.
Yes! I mean, what else can you say? Tianlang Guan, 14, shot three over par on Friday to make the Masters cut. A controversial penalty call, which would have caused a worldwide uproar had Guan fallen short by a stroke, added to the drama; Guan, from China, becomes the youngest player to ever make the cut at a major championship. What’s more, he’s the youngest player by nearly two years.
“I made it,” Guan wrote on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, according to ESPN.com. “I hope I can make more miracles, more dreams come true. I want to thank my parents and everyone who cared, supported and helped me.”
The top of the Masters leaderboard is truly intriguing. Jason Day — who could have knocked Guan out of the tournament by sinking a 12-foot putt on 17, but missed it, to the delight of, oh, the entire planet — is the leader at 6-under-par. Fred Couples is tied for second, with Marc Leishman, at 5-under; if Couples, 53, wins, he’d be the oldest player ever to win a major. Tiger Woods is lurking at 3-under. He fell off the pace a bit after a shot on 15 hit the pin … then rolled into the water.
Still, the kid at the cut line is the story of the tournament. Barring a miracle two days of golf that fires up social media like no other, Guan won’t contend for the title. But the mere presence of the eighth grader from China, whose mom is in Augusta supplying snack packs, is historic.
A rules violation almost sent Guan home. On the 17th hole, Guan was assessed a one-stroke penalty for playing too slowly. Aa Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports reports:
[British scoring official John Paramor] said he had advised Guan about slow play after both the 12th and 16th holes. When the eighth grader was again slow to hit a fairway shot on the 17th, Paramor, known for his diligence concerning slow play, immediately pounced. A player has 40 seconds to swing after initially addressing the ball.
“In keeping with the applicable rules, [Guan] was penalized … when he again exceeded the 40-second time limit by a considerable margin,” the Masters said via a statement.
The ruling is a rare one in tournament golf and moved Guan to 4-over par and put his chances to make the cut for the Masters – a remarkable accomplishment – in jeopardy. The cut line was determined by the end of play Friday.
“He had warnings,” Paramor said. “Everything needs to be done to [preserve fast play]. I made that clear on the walk from the 16th green to the 17th tee.”
It was the first slow-play penalty handed out at a major since 2004. At non-major PGA Tour events, there hasn’t been one since 1995. After the round, two-time Masters champ Ben Crenshaw, who was playing in Guan’s group, came to the youngster’s defense. “This isn’t going to end up pretty, I don’t think,” said Crenshaw. “I’m sick. I’m sick for him. He’s 14 years old, we’re playing … when you get the wind blowing out here, believe me, you’re going to change your mind a lot. I’m sorry, I’m a player. But it is not easy to get around this golf course the way it’s set up for two days.”
Guan, who also said the wind slowed his pace, did not appear as upset afterwards. That’s even more impressive than his sweet swing. “I respect the decision,” he told ESPN. A 14-year-old handled a rough situation with more class than most adults would. The penalty would have rattled most players, but how did Guan respond? He almost chipped in a birdie at 18. That par kept him at four over for the tournament, and a stroke above the cut line.
Many pro golfers over the years have violated the 40-second rule, and were never penalized. But Guan was warned. He was simply unlucky that the teacher caught him. He has plenty of time to learn from the mistake.
Not that it matters now. An eighth grader is still playing at Augusta, giving fans a weekend to remember.