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MASTERS NOTEBOOK: Ga. Tech’s Kuchar in position for green jacket

Georgia Tech alum Matt Kuchar finished third at the Masters last year, and now he's poised to better that Sunday at Augusta.

Georgia Tech alum Matt Kuchar finished third at the Masters last year, and now he's poised to better that Sunday at Augusta.

Fourteen-year-old Chinese amateur Guan continues to dazzle Masters fans

AUGUSTA — Tianlang Guan raised both hands, then lifted his cap into the air as roars echoed around the 18th green.

The 14-year-old from China left the third round at Augusta National without any birdies, but he walked away from his 5-over 77 on Saturday afternoon with one of the tournament’s most exciting pars.

Guan, the youngest to ever compete at the Masters and the youngest to make the cut at a major since 1900, rolled in a par putt from 60 feet on No. 18 — a shot that didn’t bring him to the top of the leaderboard but one that brought the crowd to their feet.

“It’s great for me, and I think I had a pretty good run in the first two days, and (Saturday) feels pretty good, not bad,” Guan said.

Guan, the last amateur remaining in the tournament, teed off early in the morning and was followed by a frenzied crowd that chanted the 8th-grader’s name and gave him the star-treatment usually reserved for players like Tiger Woods.

“I didn’t think of it too much,” Guan said of the attention he received. “But I’m really happy and I really appreciate that they’re watching me here.

“It’s just a great week for me, and I really enjoy it. People here are nice, and I learned a lot from the top players. I think I played pretty good rounds these three days. It’s really great.”

Guan wasn’t just impressing the crowds.

“Unbelievable. He’s a great player,” said Thorbjorn Olesen, Guan’s playing partner. “I mean, every shot he hit was almost at the pin and in the right spots. He could have holed a few more putts (Saturday), but he didn’t. But I was really impressed by his game. It was impressive to watch.”

Guan sits at 9-over after firing a 5-over 77 Saturday, but as the low amateur he is guaranteed a spot in Butler Cabin today alongside the tournament winner.

“It’s my honor to be there and I’m really happy,” he said.

— john.millikan@albanyherald.com

AUGUSTA — Matt Kuchar remembers the shot that nearly made him a champion.

He can almost still hear the roar of the crowd.

Now the Georgia Tech grad is ready to bring those feelings back.

One year after finding himself tied for the lead in the final round of the Masters after an eagle on No. 15, Kuchar stormed up the leaderboard Saturday with a 3-under 69 to move into sixth place.

“I've not quite had the feelings anywhere else that I did when I made the eagle on 15 last year and got right in contention,” said Kuchar, who is three shots behind leaders Brandt Snedeker and Angel Cabrera.

Kuchar, who finished tied for third last year — his best finish at a major since turning pro in 2000 — then added: “Last year was my first real time being in contention going late into Sunday. It's kind of what we all play golf for, having a chance at a major championship, having a chance at the Masters tournament, it's exciting.

This time around the 34-year-old from Winter Park, Fla., believes he will be more comfortable as he steps into the spotlight on the final day at Augusta National.

“The more comfortable you get, I think the better you play,” he said. “We have all hit a thousand golf shots before. They all seem to get a little bit bigger and a little bit more challenging when a tournament's on the line, but hopefully the experience from last year and the continued good play throughout the year has helped and will help (today).”

Kuchar began Saturday’s round at 1-under but birdied Nos. 2, 3 and 8 to make the turn at 4-under. He made two birdies and two bogeys on the back nine and was the leader in the clubhouse when he finished around 5 p.m.

“It was a good day and I'm really excited to have a shot (today),” Kuchar said. “I think that maybe (Friday) I missed a couple opportunities and didn't drive it very well. But I kind of cleaned things up (Saturday) and feel like I'm in good shape.”

BUBBA ALONE AT AUGUSTA: Bubba Watson started to feel the magic again.

One year after dazzling the golfing world with a Masters championship for the ages, the University of Georgia grad, who began the second round 10 shots back of the lead, birdied his first three holes to get to 1-over.

Watson, who was the first to tee off Saturday and played by himself, stayed at 1-over through the turn and got to even-par with a birdie on No. 10, but he double-bogeyed No. 11 and bogeyed Nos. 12 and 18 to finish the day with a 2-under 70 and nine shots off the lead.

“When I started, that's my goal — my goal was to get back in this,” Watson said. “I had some great pars right there in the middle of the round, and then just one bad swing got the momentum going the other way. So just like in any sport, when you get the momentum going the other way, it seems like everything's against you.”

Watson’s round took a turn for the worse with his second shot on No. 11 when he over cut his approach, and the ball skidded over the corner of the green and into the water.

“I knew it as soon as I hit it, I even told my caddie, I said, ‘Oh, that's in the water,’ ” Watson said. “I knew where it was going, it was going to come off those slopes and go right in the water and that's what it did.”

GOLF RULES NOT SO ELEMENTARY FOR DEAR MR. WATSON: Caution and ‘Bubba Golf’ do not normally appear in the same sentence but Watson showed his deliberate side on Saturday as golf’s rule book took the Augusta National spotlight.

On a day when Tiger Woods was handed a two-stroke penalty for an improper ball drop, Watson, who claimed his green jacket with a daring display of shot-making, admitted there is one thing he will not risk on a golf course: taking a chance with the rules.

“I don’t know the rule book,” Watson said. “I always call in the rules official.

“I’ve never been in that situation. I’ve always called in the rules official just like today on 11 I called in the rules official, even though the ball drop was there.

“I just made sure everything went right.”

Watson found himself inching up the leaderboard getting to four-under on the day after 10 holes before finding the water on the 11th and calling in a rules official.

Watson settled for a double-bogey six on the par four hole but made sure he did not do anymore damage, calling in a rules official to make sure his drop was correct.

“Once the rules official tells you a rule, that’s law,” said Watson. “So even if he makes a bad ruling, it’s still law. So that’s what I went with. That’s why I always call in the rules official to tell me the right rule or his own interpretation of the rule.”

Woods’ penalty came after a television viewer phoned in and alerted officials that the world number one had broken the rules when he failed to drop his ball as close as possible to his original spot after finding water on the par-five 15th.

It was not an unfamiliar situation for Watson, who found himself being questioned for a reported rules infraction at the 2007 U.S. Open.

“I’ve had a phone call from the U.S. Open before, so I know what those phone calls feel like,” recalled Watson after returning a third round two-under 70. “I got a call at 8 in the morning. They said, “Bubba, you said you double hit it on camera.” And I said, “No, I did not double hit it. I didn’t say that. I said I could have double hit it. I said you have to go back and listen to the tape.

“And we watched it and then I went back to sleep, because the ruling was I was right, whoever called in was wrong.”

LEFT-Y OUT OF THE PICTURE: The weather was ideal. The azaleas were blooming. The crowds were buzzing.

It was the perfect day at Augusta National for Phil Mickelson.

Perfect, except for his golf game.

“It is a beautiful day here, and you cannot get a more majestic day here at the Masters,” Mickelson said. “I just played terrible.”

Mickelson matched his worst round at the Masters with a 5-over 77, dropping the three-time champ at Augusta to 8-over. He started his round with a bogey on the first hole and picked up three more bogeys and a pair of double-bogeys before closing with three straight pars.

“I'm just not hitting very good golf shots, missing it in bad spots and not really knowing which side I'm going to miss it on,” he said. “So my play has been beyond terrible, and that's certainly disappointing.”

Mickelson, who last won the tournament in 2010, has finished in the Top 10 only twice this season and entered this week ranked ninth in the world golf rankings.

“The ball striking, I just don't know where it's going to go,” he said. “But again, I'm having fun here, but it's disappointing. This is the one event I look forward to more than anything, and it's just kind of heartbreaking to play the way I've been playing. Disappointed in myself.”


Information from Reuters News Service was used in this report