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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Matteo Manassero  (Getty Images)
Matteo Manassero (Getty Images)
A brilliant eight under par 64 gave Italy’s Matteo Manassero a three shot lead after the first round of the Open de Andalucía Costa del Sol.

The 18 year old, who could secure a second Masters Tournament appearance with victory at Aloha, leads from a group of five players on five under.

Swede Niclas Fasth, South African Open champion Hennie Otto, home favourite Eduardo de la Riva and English pair Lloyd Kennedy and Anthony Wall carded matching rounds of 67.

Manassero, still only 18 years old, equalled the Aloha course record with his nine-birdie effort.

Currently 63rd in the Official World Golf Ranking, the young Italian needs to climb into the top 50 by the end of next week’s Trophée Hassan II to secure a place at Augusta National.

He was there as British Amateur Champion two years ago, made the halfway cut and six months later became The European Tour's youngest-ever winner.

That came at Sergio Garcia's home course in Castellon and being back on Spanish soil brought back memories.

"It's quite similar, but a little bit more hilly," Manassero said after matching the score of Lee Westwood en route to his winning of the same title in 2007.

Seven of the par fours are under 400 yards and the teenager, who ranks 173rd out of 185 in driving distance, added: "It's a course that suits me and hopefully it will be my week.

“It’s my first time at Aloha. This course suits my game because it’s not long, and I don’t need to hit 300 yards to reach the par fives. You need accurate shots and a good strategy, and I enjoy this type of course.

"You have to put the ball in play and then do well around the greens. I did pretty much everything right apart from one shot.

“The key today was my putting. I made a couple of 20 footers and placed the ball on the right spots.”

He bogeyed the seventh, his 16th, after a poor pitch, but already had seven birdies on his card and finished with two more.

Fasth, a member of Europe's winning Ryder Cup Team at The Belfry a decade ago, had to fall back on his career earnings to keep his European Tour card last year after finishing 132nd on The Race to Dubai.

The 39 year old, with only one top-three finish in the last four seasons, eagled the long 16th and had six birdies to reach six under, but finished with his third bogey.

“I have been working very hard on my swing for some time and I am very happy to see the results,” said Fasth.

“I started playing extremely well and made up my score on the first nine. Then I had a few ups and downs. ”

Former Masters Tournament champion Mike Weir, over from Canada trying to reignite his career following elbow surgery, opened with a 68, while Abu Dhabi winner Robert Rock and tournament host Miguel Angel Jiménez returned 69s playing with Manassero.

Rock, conqueror of Tiger Woods in January, is another just outside the top 50 and winning on Sunday could all but clinch an Augusta debut for him, while Manassero would still have to play well next week.

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1QUESNE, JulienFRA18-17
2MANASSERO, MatteoITA18-15
3DE LA RIVA, EduardoESP18-14
4LYNN, DavidENG18-13
T5JACQUELIN, RaphaëlFRA18-12
T5OTTO, HennieRSA18-12
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