BANGKOK – Chinese teen Guan Tianlang began to pull away Friday in the Asia-Pacific Amateur, making nine birdies on his way to an 8-under 64 and a five-shot lead going into the weekend.
Guan, who turned 14 last week, is halfway home to becoming the youngest player ever at Augusta National. The winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur gets an invitation to the Masters and to the final stage of British Open qualifying.
Guan woke up at 4:30 a.m. for his early start at Amata Spring Country Club and wasted little time getting started, making birdies on his opening two holes. He made three straight birdies after the turn, chipping in on the third hole, and had to settle for a 64 with his lone bogey of the round on the last hole.
He was at 14-under 130, five shots ahead of Prin Sirisommai of Thailand (65) and Oliver Goss of Australia, who also had a 65. Goss was a quarterfinalist at the U.S. Amateur in August.
"My feeling with the putter is fantastic and that's why I've got a low score," Guan said. "I had two birdies in the first two holes and felt very comfortable after that. I just kept going, and I'm happy I only made one bogey."
Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, going for a third straight Asia-Pacific Amateur title, had a 69 and was tied for 10th, though he was 10 shots out of the lead.
It was another step toward Guan building on some strong amateur credentials. A year ago, he won his age division (11-12) at the prestigious Junior World Championships in San Diego by 11 shots. In April, he was 13 when he played in the China Open, making him the youngest ever to compete on the European Tour. Now he is closing in on a chance to play the Masters at age 14. Guan wasn't even born when Tiger Woods won his first Masters title.
"Everyone here wants to win and go to Augusta," said Guan, who lives in Guangzhou and spends his summer training in California. "That would be amazing, but for now I need to focus on my game this weekend."
Goss, an 18-year-old from Perth who will play for the Tennessee Volunteers in January, made an 80-foot eagle putt from just off the green at No. 2. A tougher chore might be catching up to the Chinese teen.
"Guan must be a good player to be 14 under at 14 years old," Goss said. "I didn't shoot those scores when I was that young. He's playing well, so congrats to him. But I guess maybe his composure might disappear on the weekend if the pressure starts to build, which hopefully I can take advantage of, having a bit more experience."