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Baptism by fire for teenage sensation Guan

Liang WenchongSHENZHEN, China, Nov 28 - Teenage sensation Guan Tianlang has been thrown into the deep end on his debut for Team China against an Asia-Pacific select side in the Dongfeng Nissan Cup this week.

Guan, 14, who will be the youngest player ever to take part in the U.S. Masters next year, has been paired with his hero Liang Wenchong in the first round of the Ryder Cup-style team event at the CTS Tycoon Club in Shenzhen from November 30 to December 2.

The pair will take on Asia-Pacific team top seeds Andre Stolz, the reigning OneAsia Order of Merit champion, and fellow Australian Scott Laycock in Friday's opening fourball match, the first of six pairings.

"I had an inkling they'd do that," said Asia-Pacific team captain Peter Thomson, the legendary Australian with five Open Championship titles to his credit as well as a place in world golf's Hall of Fame.

"He is rapidly becoming a very important young man in the world of golf. It is a baptism by fire, but will be very interesting."

Guan burst onto the world golf stage in April at the OneAsia co-sanctioned Volvo China Open, when at just 13 he became the youngest player ever to start in a professional tournament.

He won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Thailand earlier this month to earn his place at the Masters, following in the footsteps of fellow Chinese teenager Andy Zhang, who at 14 earlier this year became the youngest player ever to take part in the U.S. Open.

Both Guan and Zhang will play on invitations next week at OneAsia's Emirates Australian Open at The Lakes Golf Club, Sydney.

Held under the OneAsia umbrella, the Dongfeng Nissan Cup pits 12 of China's best golfers against an Asia-Pacific select side. The visitors won 12 1/2 to 11 1/2 on a gripping final day of singles last year after the teams were level 3 - 3 following the fourball matches and 6 - 6 following the foursomes.

Guan said he felt no pressure ahead of the tournament.

"They are all very good professionals so whoever I play against it doesn't make a difference," he said. "I just want to do my best."

Playing partner Liang, however, joked about the weight of expectation on his shoulders.

"How can I compete with someone who has already qualified for the Masters at 14 years old?" asked Liang, who missed the cut at Augusta in his sole appearance in 2008 after being invited to play.

Liang, a four-time winner on OneAsia including the Nanshan China Masters last month,  said he had already played a couple of times with Guan and could find no fault in the young man's game.

"He has a very strong heart and mentally he is also very tough," he said.

Laycock and Stolz, who have both been professionals for 20 years,  said Liang's experience would be a perfect foil for Guan's youth.

"It is a great match for him because he has Liang with him all the way," said Laycock.

"I think he might struggle a bit with the length of the course," added Stolz, "but Liang is a very good player and we have to beat them both."

As expected, Thomson went more-or-less with nationality when picking his pairings for Friday's fourball matches.

New Zealanders Michael Long and Mark Brown will be second away against Zhang Xinjun and Wu Kangchun, with Japan's Soushi Tajima and Yosuke Tsukade playing Han Ren and Yuan Tian in the third match.

Thomson paired Korean Choi Jin-ho with Korean-American Jason Kang to take on Wu Weihuang and Zhou Guowu in match four, followed by  Indonesia's Rory Hie and Singaporean Choo Tze Huang against Ouyang Zheng and Jin Daxing.

China captain Wang Jun kept an ace up his sleeve for the final pairing in the shape of Zhang Lianwei, considered the father of professional golf in the country, who will pair with Yuan Hao to take on Thailand's Wisut Artjanawat and Malaysian Nicholas Fung.
 

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