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  • Alistair Tait

Hope springs eternal for Manassero

Matteo Manassero has achieved much in his short time playing this royal and ancient game. Winning a 54-hole mini-tour event may not have been what he was looking for a few years ago, but it might prove instrumental to his career.

The 27-year-old Italian won his first tournament since the 2013 BMW PGA Championship with victory in the Toscana Alps Open on the Alps Tour circuit. The Verona native returned scores of 63, 66 and 65 for a 19-under 194 total around Toscana Golf Club in Grosseto to win by a shot. A birdie on the final hole gave him a one-shot victory over Spain’s Angel Hidalgo Portillo.

Normally who won on the Alps Tour wouldn’t matter a jot to many golf fans, but those who have watched and charted Manassero’s career will hope it’s a significant step to help the affable Italian get back where he belongs: playing among the world’s elite.

The word “precocious” is often used when a player like Manassero emerges on the world stage. I used that very word myself when I watched him win the 2009 Amateur Championship at Formby. Manassero, who entered the match play draw as number one seed after topping the 36-hole stroke play leaderboard, defeated England’s Sam Hutsby to become the youngest ever amateur winner. He was just 16. Despite his age, he was on a slightly higher level than the rest of the field. He also became the first, and so far, only Italian to lift the trophy.

It seemed obvious the charismatic Italian was a star in the making. Seve Ballesteros was his childhood hero, and the young Italian could have given Seve a decent competition in the looks department.

Manassero went on to another youthful record at the 2010 Masters, becoming the youngest player to make the 72-hole cut. Another one followed when he won the 2010 Castello Masters. It made him the tour’s youngest winner at 17 years and 188 days. It also meant he didn’t have to attend the European Tour Qualifying School. He became the tour’s second youngest full member after his idol Ballesteros.

Few were surprised when Manassero won in consecutive years until that 2013 BMW Championship victory. Although not the longest player in the game, he more than made up for it in other areas of his game. He proved that at Wentworth, which isn’t exactly a short golf course. What is surprising is how he fell so far down the world pecking order since that win. He was the world’s 25th best player in 2013. He’s now ranked 1,805th.

His five-year European Tour exemption for that BMW PGA Championship expired at the end of the 2018 season. He made 18 appearances on last year’s European Tour and made just two cuts. His stroke average was 74.38. He ended the year ranked 293rd, so low he couldn’t get into any of the UK Swing tournaments. Hence the reason he’s had to drop down to the Alps Tour to try to rebuild his career.

“It’s very nice obviously, going back to winning a tournament is always a great pleasure and a great feeling, anywhere this happens,” Manassero said. “I’m really happy and I’m really proud about the way I’ve played. After a long time and a lot of work, it’s a big achievement being able to run the right mind set every day since the start until the end. I guess I started the week thinking whether the work was good or not, and I guess it’s (his game) in a good place.”

Five years ago, Manassero would have banked on being in the field at this week’s U.S. Open when he beat Europe’s best at Wentworth to win arguably the strongest European Tour event outside the majors and world golf championships. Hopefully his Alps Tour success is that start of a journey back to the upper echelons of the European Tour.

#JustSaying: “I never can imagine this happening. It’s unbelievable.” Matteo Manassero after winning the Amateur Championship

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