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Looking like old pro, 14-year-old opens with 73

Friday - 4/12/2013, 11:14am  ET

Amateur Guan Tianlang, of China, celebrates after a birdie putt on the 18th green during the first round of the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 11, 2013, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
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NANCY ARMOUR
AP National Writer

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- Guan Tianlang put off his homework for a few hours, grabbed the snack his mom had made and went out to play with his friends.

His playground was Augusta National and the world had tuned in to watch the 14-year-old from China, the youngest player ever to tee it up at the Masters and youngest at any major in 148 years.

That's some play date.

"I felt a little bit nervous on the first tee," Guan said. "But I hit a great tee shot and, after that, everything feels comfortable. ... I just had fun today. Pretty much fun."

Played great, too.

Guan made a 15-footer from off the fringe to birdie his final hole Thursday, finishing with a 1-over 73. As the ball rolled into the cup, the crowd around 18 gave the teenager a standing ovation, with two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw leading the cheers for his young playing partner.

Play like this again Friday, and he's got a shot at making the cut.

"I'm telling you, he played like a veteran today," Crenshaw said. "Played a beautiful round of golf. He stays well within himself. He's very confident and, obviously, beautiful hands. His thought process never got rushed. Very patient. Very, very, very impressive."

He wasn't the only one who was impressed. The same "wow" murmurs could be heard on every hole, as fans -- young and old -- marveled at the eighth grader who was holding his own with the greatest golfers in the world.

"That's the 14-year-old."

"Fourteen? You're joking!"

"Fourteen? That's amazing."

"It's amazing. Absolutely amazing," said Lisa Nichols, whose folding chair, from the 1998 Masters, was older than Guan.

And more than a little bit humbling.

"It makes me feel a little lousy," 15-year-old Daniel Thrailkill said sheepishly. "I do (play). I can't play as good as him, though."

About the only person who didn't seem impressed with Guan was Guan himself. He strode onto the first tee with confidence, shaking hands with Crenshaw and Matteo Manassero, who three years ago, at 16, became the youngest person to make the cut at Augusta National, and their caddies.

He gave a long look down the fairway before taking a few warm-up swings, then stepped up to the tee and let it rip.

At 5-foot-9 and about 150 pounds, he doesn't hit it anywhere close to the big guys. But he rarely strayed from the fairway, and his short game more than makes up for what he lacks in length.

He got his first birdie on No. 3, chipping to about 12 feet past the hole and rolling it in. After his drive on the long par-4 No. 5 sailed far right, he recovered with a nice shot to just below the green, then chipped within 3 feet.

And though he didn't have the distance to reach the green on the par-5 15 in two, he got close enough to give himself a makeable birdie putt.

"(Adam Scott) and I were talking about it, joking a little bit, if we would have been here at 14 years old, we would have been shaking," said Sergio Garcia, who knows a little bit about being a phenom. "It happened to me at 16 when I played the British Open and I thought I was going to miss it on that first tee shot, so I can't imagine how he must have felt."

If Guan was nervous, he never let it show. Didn't show any emotions, really. There were occasional smiles, a fist pump when he rolled a putt in for a birdie, a polite touch of his cap to acknowledge the cheers of the crowd.

But the baby-faced teenager never looked flustered, and there was never a hint of the petulance.

"People were very nice to me," he said. "And I feel comfortable on the course."

If he ever did get overwhelmed, Guan knew his parents were only a few feet away.

After having breakfast with their only child -- potatoes, beef, rice, vegetables and stir-fried eggs -- Hong Yu and Han Wen followed him for the entire round, joined by several family friends. But unlike the parents of some other young stars, they didn't seem overbearing or caught up in their son's results.

After Guan's second shot on the first hole, while everyone else followed the flight of the ball, Han Wen watched his son, breathing a sigh of relief when the youngster nodded in satisfaction. He clapped enthusiastically after every shot -- his son's and those of his playing partners.

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