Guan Tianlang of China is one round away from becoming the first 14-year-old to play in the Masters.
Guan overcame some early nerves and a difficult course at Amata Spring on Saturday with a par 72 to take a two-shot lead over Oliver Goss of Australia going into the final day of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship.
”Everybody looked a little bit nervous to start with, and there was not much talking,” Guan said. ”I then started to focus on my own game and felt pretty relaxed on the back nine, got a few birdies, so it was all right.”
The winner gets an invitation to play in the Masters, along with an exemption to the final stage of qualifying for the British Open. The youngest competitor in Masters history was Matteo Manassero of Italy, who was 16 in 2010.
The third round showed that Guan still has a long way to Augusta National.
Goss, a quarterfinalist in the U.S. Amateur and winner last week in the Western Australia Open, shot a 69 in tougher conditions. He has a big advantage in distance over the 125-pound Guan.
The Australian was impressed with the slender schoolboy, who hits it about 250 yards off the tee.
”Guan did well because the course was playing a lot tougher than the first two days. He doesn’t hit it as far as other players, so I think he did really well,” Goss said. ”I hit it longer than him, but I think he’s too young to be intimidated.”
Guan began Saturday with a five-shot lead and dropped two shots on the front nine before he settled down with birdies on the 11th, 12th and 14th. For the second time in three days, he made bogey on the 18th. That put him at 14-under 202.
Prin Sirisommai of Thailand also had a 72 for third, five shots behind. Hideki Matsuyama, going for a third straight Asia-Pacific Amateur title, had a 71 and was eight shots back.
Guan played in the China Open this spring, at 13 the youngest player to compete at a European Tour event. A year ago, he won his age division (11-12) by 11 shots at the Junior World Golf Championships in San Diego.
Guan realizes what’s at stake on Sunday and the quality of his competition.
”Goss hits the driver pretty far and every part of his game is pretty good,” Guan said. ”He doesn’t make big mistakes. He’s a very good player.”