AUGUSTA, Georgia (AFP) - Tiger Woods is amazed at 14-year-old Chinese golf prodigy Guan Tianlang and how well he executes his shotmaking at Augusta National this week ahead of Thursday's start of the 77th Masters.
"For a 14-year-old to be able to come out here and handle himself the way he has done is just unbelievable," Woods said.
"When I was 14, I was trying to play more tournaments and I was running track and cross country, trying to get homework done. I couldn't imagine not just playing in a tour event, but the Masters."
Guan is set to become the youngest player in Masters history when he tees off Thursday afternoon alongside two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw, with whom he shared a Monday morning practice round, and Italy's Matteo Manassero.
Manassero had been the youngest Masters starter at age 16 from his 2010 appearance, but he will be erased from the spot by Guan, who qualified for the Masters by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship last November.
"If I had any advice for him, just enjoy it - you're playing in the Masters at 14," said two-time major champion Rory McIlroy. "He could potentially play 60 Masters. It's incredible, just a great accomplishment." McIlroy met Guan in the Masters locker room on Tuesday, a day after Guan and Woods played the back nine together in an Augusta National practice round.
"He's so consistent," Woods said. "He was hitting a lot of hybrids into the holes, hitting them spot on, right on the numbers. He knew what he was doing.
He knew the spots he had to land the ball and to be able to pull it off. Good scouting, good prep, but also even better execution.
"It was cool to see, just the attitude and open-mindedness. He's just taking it all in. He's going to learn and become so much better because of this experience and certainly going to grow as a player and as a person."
Guan took advantage of the chance to tour the famed course with his idol that he asked about strategy and landing areas.
"He speaks great English. He has picked it up really well," Woods said.
"He asked a lot of game questions, whether it was what am I doing in my game or a strategy on the course, practice, playing, a lot of golf stuff. I was asking him about school and stuff like that." Woods first played alongside Guan in a 2011 practice round at Shanghai.
"To see him hit the ball out there at 12, we knew he was going to be good," Woods said. "We didn't think he was going to be in the Masters in two years." Australian Adam Scott, last year's British Open runner-up and a 2011 Masters runner-up, marvels at how Guan handles the Masters intensity and pressure.
"I don't know how I would have been able to handle the enormity of the situation as a 14-year-old mentally," Scott said.
"Obviously he can play very, very good golf at 14, better than most, but I just don't know how you handle the pressure and the nerves at that age." Guan could be just the vanguard of a series of top Chinese talent, Woods warned.
"Going to China for a number of years now, it's just amazing to see the amount of talent that they have, and at such a young age," Woods said.
"It's just about giving them enough starts and enough opportunities and they are going to be out here on tour or playing other tours, but they are coming, and he's one of them." Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson said that Guan showed what can happen when the sport is supported at high levels.
"It shows that when there's commitment from their culture, they work hard at a young age," Mickelson said of China.
"And at 14, Guan is an incredible player. You can't believe how good he putts it. This can be a great golf course for him. I think he's going to make a lot of putts out here because he's got great touch and great vision." Defending Masters champion Bubba Watson said his advice to Guan was simple, enjoy the Masters.
"As good as he is, he's probably going to get back here so I would tell him just to enjoy it, no matter what happens," Watson said.
"Knowing what he's probably going through, he's probably thinking about playing good, making the cut and having his name up on that leaderboard at some point. Who doesn't dream of that?"