Monday, 25 October 2010
 Matteo Manassero on  his way to victory  (Getty Images)
Matteo Manassero on his way to victory (Getty Images)

Matteo Manassero is used to breaking records, so his maiden victory at the CASTELLÓ MASTERS Costa Azahar, where he became the youngest winner in European Tour history, should come as no surprise.

The Italian teenager has left a trail of broken records in his wake during his short golfing career, becoming the youngest winner of the Amateur Championship in 2009 and, a few weeks later, the youngest player to claim the Silver Medal at The Open Championship – a feat which propelled him to prominence following his tied 13th place finish after playing the first two rounds with Tom Watson and Sergio Garcia.

At the time, Watson said of the youngster: “He has a passion for the game. That's what I look for in a young golfer. Technique can be added if necessary but if they don't have that passion then I am concerned. Matteo has it."

Manassero was the youngest golfer to play in the Masters Tournament – and the youngest to make the cut, which he did with ease in April this year when he came tied 36th – and is now the youngest full European Tour Member in history, beating the previous record held by Spanish legend Seve Ballesteros by 12 days.

His triumph at Club de Campo del Mediterráneo at 17 years and 188 days smashed the record held by Danny Lee, who was 18 years and 213 days old when he won the 2008 Johnnie Walker Classic.

Manassero afterwards admitted he had not expected his first win to come so soon, but given his track record and the seamless transition he has made from amateur to professional golf this season, it is anything but a shock.

“It’s incredible,” he said. “I made it! It’s a very, very special win. I still can’t believe it. It’s a dream. Winning was on my mind, of course, but not so soon. It’s an incredible feeling.

“My results this year are well above my expectations. I never dreamt of winning on Tour so soon. My main objective this year was to get my card, and I got it the first week of September, so I was satisfied with my season. This win is unexpected. I had an opportunity and I took it. It means a lot to me. It gives me the option of playing many more tournaments. I am thrilled.”

Inevitably, comparisons have been made with the illustrious Ballesteros since Manassero’s emergence at The 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry, where as a 16 year old he stunned the golfing world with a fine performance which belied his age.

“Seve has always been my idol,” said Manassero. “I will try to follow his career, one of the best in golfing history.”

From that moment, Manassero has steadily risen to the upper echelons of the game and has contributed to the huge success Italian golf is currently enjoying. The Molinari brothers, Edoardo and Francesco, have been prolific over the last 18 months, during which they won the Omega Mission Hills World Cup late last year and were part of the victorious European Team at The 2010 Ryder Cup, and now the pair have an heir apparent in Manassero.

“This win is good for Italian golf as it adds to Edoardo and Francesco’s great performances,” he said. “I still haven’t had a chance to look at my mobile, but I am sure that I have a message from them. This morning I had a very encouraging one from Edoardo, saying that it would be a very important day and that I should enjoy it.

“It’s very good to have two top players in the world and Ryder Cup players that are close to you, come from the same country, and introduce you to that life. It was lucky for me. I will always respect them.

“We are doing quite well. I hope that more young Italians will take up golf. We hope that obviously that many, many more guys will come through.”

In fact, it is not just Italian golf that is enjoying a purple patch, but The European Tour in general. The last three Major Champions – Martin Kaymer, Louis Oosthuizen and Graeme McDowell – are European Tour Members, indicating a shift in balance away from the once-dominant Americans in Majors Championships.

European players have also enjoyed huge success in the USA this year with Rory McIlroy winning the Quail Hollow Championship ,Ian Poulter claiming the WGC-Accenture Match Play and Lee Westwood winning the St Jude Classic to complete a high profile hat-trick of victories.

Europe’s narrow victory over the United States in The Ryder Cup at The Celtic Manor Resort earlier gave another sign that golf’s form players currently hail from this side of the Atlantic, a point reinforced by the fact we will have a European World Number One on Sunday.

Whether Kaymer or Westwood takes over that mantle long held by Tiger Woods is dependent on results in the Andalucia Valderrama Masters (Kaymer needs to finish first or second).

Whoever makes it, two things are certain: 2010 continues to be a spectacular year for European golf, and in Manassero we may have just witnessed the first win of a career every bit as sublime as that enjoyed by the great Ballesteros.

 

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