AUGUSTA, Ga. — The 14-year-old from China isn’t going anywhere in a hurry. And this Masters is still a long way from taking shape.
Despite being the first player at Augusta National to get hit with a one-shot penalty for slow play, teen sensation Guan Tianlang still made history Friday as the youngest player to make the cut in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event.
And it came down to the last shot of a wild and windy day.
Jason Day could have sent the kid home early with a birdie from just off the front of the green on the 18th hole. But the Australian was wide left and tapped in for par, giving him a 4-under-par 68 and a one-shot lead on fellow Aussie Marc Leishman and the seeminglyageless Fred Couples.
The par meant that Guan, who had one shot added to his score on the 17th hole for his second bad time of the round — made the cut under the 10-shot rule.
“If I can make it, I would be really happy for it,” Guan said some five hours earlier. “But if I didn’t make it, it’s still a great week.”
He’s now part of a weekend at Augusta that should be as dynamic as ever.
Day was at 6-under 138, and 18 players were within four shots of the lead, including Tiger Woods.
Woods moved into a share of the lead with a two-putt birdie on the eighth hole, and his game looked to be as sharp as ever — perhaps too sharp. Right when it looked like he might take the outright lead, Woods hit a lob wedge that was so perfect, it hit the flag on the par-5 15th and caromed backward off the green and into the water. Instead of having a short birdie putt, he had to scramble to save bogey.
Woods posed over another shot on the 18th and was stunned to see it hop onto the upper shelf, leading to his second three-putt bogey of the week. He had to settle for a 71, though he was still only three shots out of the lead.
“My score doesn’t quite indicate how well I played today,” he said.
Day, a runner-up at the Masters two years ago, can be one of the most exciting players in golf when his game is on, and he was firing at flags from everywhere Friday. Even from the pine straw under the trees on the dangerous 11th, the Aussie took dead aim at the pin and set up a rare birdie to join the leaders.
His only blunder was hitting into the water short of the 12th, though he still managed to escape with bogey. Then he fired a 4-wood low enough to stay below the trees and avoid the wind on the 13th, setting up a two-putt birdie.
He was cognizant of the guys behind him — Woods included — though just as much pressure comes from trying to be the first Australian in a green jacket.
“The moment I start worrying about other players is the moment I start losing focus on what I need to do. And when I do that, I’ll start making bogeys,” Day said. “It’s obviously great to have the lead. I’m very excited for the challenge over the next two days. It really is exciting to have the opportunity to win the Masters. I’m very, very happy where I am right now.”
The 53-year-old Couples, who shared the 36-hole lead last year at the Masters, birdied the 18th hole for a 71 and will play in the final group.
“I did tee off Thursday with the idea of playing well, and now it’s Friday afternoon late. I’m surprised, but I’m not going to freak out over it,” he said.
Former Masters champion Angel Cabrera birdied five of his last six holes for a 69 and was in the group two shots behind, along with former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk (71) and Brandt Snedeker (70). Woods was at 3-under 141 with six others, including Adam Scott (72), Lee Westwood (71) and Justin Rose (71).
And still in the mix was Rory McIlroy, who turned his fortunes around with a 5-wood from about 275 yards that set up a short eagle putt. He added three more birdies on the back nine and had a 70, leaving him only four shots out of the lead going into the weekend.
“Anything under par today was going to be a good score,” McIlroy said.
The hole locations were severe in spots, with one pin tucked on top of a mound toward the front of the fifth green. The par 5s played into an opposite wind on the back nine, and they were not easy to reach. Furyk got home in two on the 15th hole Thursday with a hybrid. He used that same club to lay up Friday.
Such tough conditions made the performance of Guan that much more impressive. He had a respectable 75, which included the one-shot penalty. And for the longest time, it looked as though it might be costly.
Guan, playing with Matteo Manassero and Ben Crenshaw, was informed his group was out of position as it left the 10th green. They were on the clock on the 12th hole, meaning players would be timed to make sure they hit their shots within the 40-second limit. The teen got his first bad time with his second shot on the 13th hole, and it was clear he was in trouble after his shot into the 17th when John Paramor, chief referee in Europe, walked out to speak to him.
“You give him the news the best you can,” Paramor said.
Fred Ridley, head of competition at the Masters, did not say how long Guan took to hit his second shot on the 17th, only that it was a “considerable margin” over his time. Guan still managed to make par on the 17th, and if he was shaken by the news so late in the round, it didn’t show. He made one last par and was at 4-over 148.
His game is well beyond his years, and so was his attitude over the first slow-play penalty in a major since Gregory Bourdy in the 2010 PGA Championship.
“I respect the decision they make,” said Guan, who spent nearly 90 minutes talking with officials after the round. “They should do it because it’s fair to everybody.”
The penalty looked ominous because Dustin Johnson was running off birdies every way imaginable, the only player to reach 7-under in nasty conditions. But his round imploded when he played the final five holes in 6-over. That included a double bogey on the 15th as he hit his third shot into the water. He had a 76 and plunged down the leaderboard, though he was still only five shots behind.
Furyk also hit into the water on the 15th with a wedge he chunked so badly that it didn’t make it halfway across the pond. Scott made his third straight bogey at No. 5, but that was the last mistake he made: He answered with three birdies the rest of the way.
One player who didn’t recover was Sergio Garcia, who opened with a 66. A day after six birdies and no bogeys, he had four bogeys and no birdies. A day after he saw so many shots go where he was aiming, he couldn’t cope with the wind.