Zurich Classic notebook: A close encounter for Guan Tianlang

AVONDALE — An unusual spectator joined Kid Guan’s growing legion of fans during Saturday’s third round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

After hitting a poor third shot from a waste bunker on the par-5 18th, 14-year-old Chinese sensation Guan Tianlang calmly turned to his caddie and acknowledged a reptilian presence emerging from the water.

“He hits the shot, and he says with a smile, ‘Hey, there’s a little alligator right here,’ ” caddie Todd McPherson said. “He pays attention to all the little things that go with playing good golf, but he’s still a kid. When it’s time to hit a golf shot, he hits the shot. But at the end of the day, he’s still a kid, and people forget that sometimes.’’

Until Saturday’s third round, Tianlang had played like a kid possessed, qualifying for the weekend at 3-under-par 141 with rounds of 72-69.

Though conditions were favorable in the morning, Tianlang went high with a 5-over 77 and stands last in the field of 71 at 2-over 218 entering Sunday’s final round.

“I didn’t do pretty good,’’ he said. “I didn’t have a good start, and I tried to start back in the middle and made a couple birdies. But it was not a very good round.’’

Tianlang’s roller coaster ride of 39-38 consisted of nine pars, three birdies, five bogeys (including a bogey-6 on 18) and one triple bogey.

“He handled himself very well out there,’’ McPherson said. “He’s very even-tempered. He doesn’t get really hot or cold at all. He had a tough day, but that’s how it goes’’

McPherson, a 37-year-old scratch golfer from New Orleans and member of TPC Louisiana, is carrying Tianlang’s bag this week at the request of Fore!Kids Foundation CEO Steve Worthy. The hook-up came two weeks after Tianlang became the youngest player to make a cut at the Masters.

“This is great fun out here, great fun,’’ McPherson said. “He’s a good kid. The shot I remember so far is his tee shot at No. 17 (a 213-yard par-3) in the opening round. He hit 4 wood to one foot. That was a good shot, a good shot. His short game is really good. He was a little off today, but his short game is good.”

Bubba being Bubba

Bubba Watson provided unique perspective on Tianlang, saying youthful innocence can serve as an extra club in his bag.

“At 14, he’s not trying to pay his house off, you know?’’ Watson said. “I’ve hit enough bad shots where now I get to worry about them. But he doesn’t see that yet.

“Right now, this is the first time in the tournament, and he’s enjoying every minute of it. I am, too, but I worry. He’s 14, he doesn’t worry yet.’’

Watson said Tianlang’s sudden splash on the world golf scene is a reflection of the changing times.

“You know, bigger, better, stronger, faster — no matter what the sport is,’’ the 2012 Masters champion said. “You look at every person in sports. It’s growing that way. Pretty soon they’re going to be younger, and 20 years down the road it’s probably going to be younger than 14.”

A stroll through the bayou

Luke List flew solo around TPC Louisiana, completing his third round in a brisk two hours, 43 minutes Saturday morning.

“What time is it? 10 o’clock,’’ he said after exiting the scorer’s hut. “I’m going to go practice and maybe go to the Zurich tent a little later and hobnob with those guys. Maybe I’ll check out the Jazz Fest and just kind of relax a little bit.’’

List went off the first all by his lonesome at 7:15 after becoming the last weekend qualifier with a birdie-par finish Friday. By doing so, he climbed to 3-under and became the 71st — and final — player to reach the third round.

By getting to 3-under, List eliminated 22 players who were lurking at 2-under and hoping to be part of a PGA Tour record 93-player field on the weekend.

“I luckily dodged most everybody in the clubhouse, and I kind of did the same thing at my hotel,’’ List said. “But I got some funny texts from Jeff Overton and Roberto Castro, guys who were at 3-under. They were very thankful to be playing twosomes. Although TV does better with threesomes, guys really like twosomes because we play quicker and make more money.’’

List acknowledged that he probably had a few detractors who were sitting at 2-under but declined to name them.

“Golf is a pretty classy sport,’’ he said, smiling. “But I’m sure a few people were dog-cussing me under their breath. But I know most of the guys at 2-under pretty well and am good friends.

“Vice versa, if I was in their shoes, I’d probably hate it for the time being, but it all comes out in the wash. We’re all out here every week.’’

List shot a bogey-free 4-under 68 on Saturday and climbed from last to a temporary tie for sixth at 6-under 210 before free-falling back down the leaderboard once players behind him starting posting their scores.

“It’s the first time I played by myself as a pro,’’ he said. “It was relaxing and fun out there, just me and my caddie (Jeff King). It’s not a great consolation prize to be last after 36 holes, but I handled it well. If I have to do it again, I’ll know what to expect.”

Weather alters schedule

The potential for inclement weather prompted tournament officials to change the start of Sunday’s final round.

Threesomes will go off Nos. 1 and 10 between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. Air times for TV coverage will remain the same: Golf Channel from noon to 1:30 p.m. and CBS from 2 to 5 p.m.

Lagniappe

With a 66 on Saturday, Billy Horschel moved into contention at 12-under 204 and positioned himself nicely for his fourth consecutive top-10 finish. ... Third-round leader Lucas Glover (70-202) has yet to three-putt this week. ... Five of the past eight Zurich winners made their maiden victory on tour in New Orleans, including defending champion Jason Dufner (67-208).

The last word

“I’ve got the lead. I’ve got a big bull’s-eye on my back, so they’re going to be guns-a-blazing. And I’m going to have to do the same.’’

Glover on the challenge facing him Sunday