AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - After competing in a record 52 Masters, Gary Player thought he had pretty much seen it all at Augusta National.
The South African experienced the ultimate high when he won the tournament in 1961, 1974 and 1978, as well as the agony of close defeat when he lost out in a three-way playoff for the title in 1962.
He has witnessed many of the greatest moments in the event’s history but the 78-year-old said the most remarkable feat he saw came just last year, from an unexpected source.
Player said he was astounded by the performance of China’s teenage golf sensation Guan Tianlang, who became the feel-good story of the 2013 tournament.
Just 14, the pint-sized Guan defied the odds to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship to qualify for the Masters, then proceeded to make the cut.
“I think one of the most significant things we’ve ever seen is a 14-year-old boy making the cut here,” Player told a news conference at the Masters on Thursday after he, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus had hit the ceremonial opening tee shots.
“When I saw it was a 14-year-old boy, I said to my wife, ‘If it was my son, I would have him withdraw from the tournament. He can’t break 90.’ This is a monster out here, this is tough.”
Despite his tender years and the glare of the world’s golfing spotlight at the 2013 Masters, Guan held his nerve to shoot 73 and 75 in his first two rounds.
He was in danger of missing the cut after receiving a rarely imposed penalty for slow play that many people, including Player, thought was harsh but he scraped in by a shot and went on to win the Silver Cup as the leading amateur.
“What he did with an unjustified penalty of one shot, to still make the cut was something that I’ll never forget in my life,” said Player.
Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes