AUGUSTA, Ga. — Guan Tianlang called it a dream come true yesterday when he became the youngest player ever to compete in the Masters.
But it had to be even better to finish with a curling 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole for a 1-over-par 73, which tied the 14-year-old from China for 46th place in the 93-player field.
“I feel great to play the first round here,” Guan said. “I was just a little bit nervous on the first tee, but I hit a great tee shot on it, and after that, I just felt comfortable.”
Guan, one of the shorter hitters in the tournament, got two of his four birdies at holes 10 and 18, two of the longest par-4s at Augusta National Golf Club. He also made several par saves, including one that followed a spectacular chip at the par-3 sixth.
All in all, Guan had fun. And the crowd supported him.
“The people are nice,” he said. “Some of the times, they are cheering for me, and it feels great.”
Bubba’s putting woes
Defending champion Bubba Watson three-putted three times, and a fourth time from the fringe, and he started his pursuit of a second green jacket with a 75, well behind the leaders.
“It’s golf,” Watson said. “There’s going to be bad days and good days. I hit the ball really well. I can’t complain about my ball-striking. I had four three-putts. I never got the speed right, never got the ball to the hole. (The greens) were slower than what I was expecting.”
Watson, who had just one birdie, said he felt no different playing as the defending champion, and he felt no additional pressure.
The other guy
Marc Leishman, who carded seven birdies in grabbing a share of the first-round lead with Sergio Garcia, said he did a little too much sightseeing at his first Masters in 2010 and missed the cut.
“I was a bit of a deer in the headlights,” the Australian said. “I found myself looking around a little bit too much and not concentrating on getting the ball in the hole.
“I hit it in a lot of bad spots, and I think I learned a lot from doing that. That’s helped me this week so far.”
Welcome to Augusta
Jamie Donaldson, a first-time Masters participant, made a big impression by carding a hole-in-one at the par-3 sixth hole. The 37-year-old European Tour player hit a 7-iron from 177 yards out. He went on to finish with a 74.
“You’re staring down that hole, and the green is like there are dead elephants buried everywhere,” he said. “The (back right) pin is in the hardest pin placement, so you just have to take the shot on.
“I went straight at it, and the shot came off exactly as I wanted it to, and it went in.
“It was just like, wow.”
Rickie Fowler used to race motocross, so he knows a few things about crashes and spills.
After making double bogey on the first hole, he could have stayed down. But Fowler came back to play the next 17 holes in 6 under and put himself in contention after the first round.
Afterward, Fowler was asked to compare the roller-coaster round to a motocross race.
“I would have went down pretty hard on the first corner and probably been out of the race,” Fowler said. “Yeah, could have been a pileup in the first corner, so I would have been heading back to the pits.”
Fowler was even happier that he had few problems with his back; he has struggled with back issues for much of the past year. He said he kept the back problem mostly quiet as he worked his way through it.