Monday, 08 April 2013
Matteo Manassero  (Getty Images)
Matteo Manassero (Getty Images)

At the tender age of 16 years and 354 days, Matteo Manassero became the youngest competitor ever at the Masters Tournament in 2010. Now, three years later and three European Tour titles better off, the prodigious Italian is back in Georgia with his eyes firmly fixed on mounting a challenge for the coveted Green Jacket.

Manassero, who qualified for the 2010 event by virtue of victory at The 2009 Amateur Championship, achieved the best finish by a European amateur for 73 years when he came home in a tie for 36th place at Augusta National as Phil Mickelson romped to a third Green Jacket that year.

The performance, coming on the back of a stunning turn in The Open Championship the previous year at Turnberry in which the Verona man finished in a tie for 13th place, solidified the portents for a glittering professional career.

It has been a whirlwind ascent up the golfing ladder since, as Manassero – still a few weeks shy of exiting his teenage years – can now count himself a triple European Tour Champion, having shattered records left, right and centre by becoming the youngest winner in European Tour history with victory at the 2010 Castelló Masters.

Manassero added further scalps at the 2011 Maybank Malaysian Open and the 2012 Barclays Singapore Open – the latter also making the Italian the first in Tour history to record three wins before his 20th birthday.

Once again traversing the renowned vista of Magnolia Lane in 2013 and now ranked 46th in the Official World Golf Ranking, Manassero retains fond memories of those first magical experiences of the iconic Georgian venue, but returns this year with headier goals in tow.

“I remember so many things about being there in 2010,” he recalled. “It’s going to be a completely different this time. I just wanted to enjoy every moment and see all the things I could possibly see.
 
“This year I’m obviously in it to compete so there will be a lot more preparation, a lot more concentration and I really want to put a performance together. It will be very special reliving those very nice memories, though.”

It has been a consistent start to the season for the 2010 Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year, with Manassero only once having finished outside the top 30 in seven European Tour starts thus far in 2013, and he says he will be revelling in the unique ambience the Augustan layout exudes each April.

Manassero said: “I’m really looking forward to the atmosphere on the course. It’s very special. There are so many people, and people rooting for you. I think it’s the Major that I enjoy the most. It gives me the best feelings.

“I’ll be getting there a little early and the most important thing to practise is controlling my wedges around the greens. It’s important to play as much as possible to get the feel of the greens.”

The teenager spent much of the off-season honing a physique to better cope with the strains of a punishing professional golfing schedule with a festive period spent running, lifting weights and losing six kilograms of mass in the process.

Lean, mean and fighting fit, then, Manassero will be hoping his new figure – and a hot putter – can help propel him to a best finish in a Major this week in Georgia.

“I’m playing well and physically I’m feeling so much better – it’s nice that the hard work is paying off,” he continued. “My game has been excellent recently. I feel like I could have done a lot more on the greens in the Malaysian Open (where he finished tied 17th), but it’s not a problem because in Augusta we will have perfect greens. If I keep the stroke the way it is now, I’m going to make a lot of putts and hopefully give myself a good chance.”

Already a man famed for a propensity for re-writing the history books, it would come as no surprise if the young Italian had a certain Tiger Woods firmly in mind when he tees it up at Augusta National on Thursday.

Woods still retains the honour of being the youngest winner of the Masters at 21 years and 104 days young after his maiden Major triumph in 1997; on Sunday April 14, 2013, when this year’s showpiece reaches its zenith, Matteo ‘Manny’ Manassero will be five days short of entering his twenties…

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