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Tee to Green: Rating the prodigies

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Updated: 4/25/2013 2:51 pm

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The three biggest stories of this year's Masters were Adam Scott's playoff triumph, Dropalypse and 14-year-old amateur Tianlang Guan's slow play penalty.

Scott's win was nearly overshadowed by Tiger Woods' drop heard 'round the world, but another rules infraction also managed to move the needle.

Guan, the youngest-ever Masters participant, received a one-stroke penalty for slow play during his second round, inciting accusations of bullying by tournament officials and stoking the ever-growing pace-of-play fire.

Despite the penalty, Guan persevered and became the youngest player ever to make the cut at the Masters. The only amateur to play on the weekend, Guan finished at 12-over-par and took home the sterling silver cup as the 77th edition's low amateur.

Guan is back in the field this week for the PGA Tour's Zurich Classic of New Orleans on a sponsor's exemption and much is being made of his playing speed (or lack thereof), but let's take a second to appreciate the kid's phenomenal achievement.

While most of his peers were playing video games and tweeting incessantly, Guan was busy practicing with Tiger, making the cut at the Masters, and finishing the final round alongside former champion Sandy Lyle. When it was all over, Guan finally got down to the homework he brought with him from China.

But as fascinating as Guan's story is, it isn't necessarily unique. Over the years, the sporting world has periodically been presented with the next prodigy. Some have lived up to the hype, some haven't, but all have been memorable.

TIGER WOODS

Talk about a prodigy. Tiger putted against Bob Hope on the "Mike Douglas Show" at the age of 2, shot 48 for nine holes at 3 and was featured in Golf Digest at 5. Starting at 8, he won the Optimist International Junior tournament six times, then produced three straight U.S. Amateur triumphs.

Woods turned pro in 1996 and produced two PGA Tour victories and five straight top-5 finishes that year. In 1997, he became the youngest-ever Masters winner at 21 years old. He won by 12 strokes.

VERDICT (Did they live up to the hype?): YES

An emphatic yes. We all know the rest of the story. Woods went on to become perhaps the greatest golfer of all time. He is a 14-time major champion, a nine-time PGA Tour money lead and a 10-time PGA Tour Player of the Year. And he's still going, with three of his 77 tour wins coming this season. Enough said.

MICHELLE WIE

Ah, Michelle Wie. What could have been? She qualified for a USGA Tournament at age 11 and by her teens was driving the ball 280 yards. At 13, she won the 2003 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links, becoming the youngest winner (male or female) of an adult USGA-sanctioned tournament. That same year she became the youngest player to make the cut at an LPGA tournament and major (Nabisco Championship).

At 14, Wie set her sights on the PGA Tour. The fourth female to play a PGA Tour event, and the youngest ever, Wie missed the cut at the Sony Open in Hawaii by a single shot. A year later, she became the first female golfer to qualify for a USGA national men's tournament.

Wie said her ultimate goal was to play at the Masters and speculated that by the age of 20 she could beat Tiger Woods.

VERDICT: NO

Well, she's 23 and she hasn't played at the Masters and she definitely hasn't defeated Tiger. Those were lofty goals, and Wie was widely deemed arrogant when she publicly stated them years ago. But even by more reasonable standards, the once-upon-a-time phenom has fallen short.

Since turning pro at 15, Wie has recorded just two LPGA Tour victories. She hasn't made a cut on the PGA Tour and infamously missed the 2007 Sony Open cut by 14 shots. Last year, Wie failed to make the cut in 10 of the 23 LPGA tournaments she played.

Wie is now employing a strange putting style, in which she bends forward from the waist at a 90-degree angle, but it hasn't produced results. She's been cut three times and hasn't finished above 28th in seven events this season. Her world ranking now stands at 90th.

LEBRON JAMES

The King.

There have been 42 NBA players taken directly out of high school, but none as ballyhooed as LeBron James.

Playing at St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron, Ohio, James became the first sophomore ever selected to the USA Today All-USA First Team and was named Ohio's Mr. Basketball the same year. He won both of those awards again as a junior, landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated and earned the boys' basketball Gatorade National Player of the Year Award. He considered entering the NBA Draft after that season, but returned for his senior year and won all three awards again, while playing in nationally televised games and rolling around in a Hummer H2.

At 18, he was selected No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2003 NBA Draft.

VERDICT: YES

James experienced immediate individual success on the court, becoming the first member of the Cavaliers franchise and the youngest-ever player to win the NBA Rookie of the Year award. A year later, he made his first All-Star team and became the youngest in league history to score 50 points in a game.

But while the individual accolades piled up, James couldn't get his team over the hump. His Cavaliers were swept in the 2006-07 NBA Finals, and three years of playoff disappointments followed before James jumped ship.

The venom at James' "Decision" was poisonous and largely deserved, and a loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2010-11 NBA Finals only added to the sting. But James bounced back a year later, earning his first championship ring with and NBA Finals MVP performance in a defeat of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Heat are the favorites to repeat this year, and James has been dazzling, legitimizing his previous prodigal status in the process.

FREDDY ADU

Adu had a lot to live up after being billed as the savior of American soccer.

At 14, Adu simultaneously became the youngest and highest-paid player in Major League Soccer when he inked with D.C. United in 2004. The justification for the contract was simple: Adu was the next Pele.

Adu initially impressed, making 30 appearances with five goals from midfield while helping D.C. to an MLS Cup victory at the age of 15. He was selected to a pair of MLS All-Star teams, thrived at the 2007 U-20 World Cup, and later that year was signed away by Portugal's Benfica for $2 million.

VERDICT: NO

Adu's career has sharply plateaued. He barely played for Benfica and was sent on loan to AS Monaco the following year with an option to join the club permanently at the end of the season, but that option was eventually declined by Monaco. In 2009, the Portuguese club Belenenses picked Adu up on loan, but his season was cut short due to injury. A lackluster term in Greece with Aris and a run with a second-division Turkish club followed.

Despite his unstable club situation, Adu was a surprise inclusion in the USA roster for the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup. He failed to make an appearance over the first four matches, but he made an impact as a substitute against Panama and started the final against Mexico, where he hand a hand in both goals of a 4-2 loss.

Adu returned to the MLS in 2011 with the Philadelphia Union and recorded seven goals in 35 games before he was shipped to the Brazilian club Bahia this spring.

Now 23, Adu has yet to live up to the hype.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

Adu and Wie are two of many cautionary prodigal tales. But stalwarts like Woods and James prove that sometimes it's possible to exceed even the loftiest of expectations.

And while scrutiny increases in this 24/7 sports landscape, young phenoms like Guan and his women's golf equal, 15-year-old amateur Lydia Ko, appear poised to handle the hype.

I mean, Guan went back to his homework after wrapping up an interview with Scott, Bubba Watson and Jim Nantz in the Butler Cabin. Masters or not, how many 14-year-olds do you know exhibit that type of discipline?

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