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Manassero on the cusp

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Ben Dirs | 12:08 UK time, Wednesday, 13 July 2011

A lot of people have been asking Matteo Manassero about Tom Watson this week, which is no great surprise. The Italian teenager played with the five-time Claret Jug winner on his Open debut at Turnberry in 2009, watching and learning from the master craftsman for the first two rounds.

"I learnt a lot from Tom," the 18-year-old Manassero, who plays in his second Open Championship this week at Royal St George's, told BBC Sport. "He just seemed really comfortable - which you would expect from someone who has won five Opens. He just seemed to know how to handle it.

"He told me to keep my putting stroke the way it was and to keep doing what I was doing, and it was really important to hear that from him. It was great to have him beside me for those two days."

But it was the third man in the grouping, Sergio Garcia, who perhaps had more relevant lessons to teach. There are more 'New Seves' in European golf than you can shake a rake at - and not one of them has come up to scratch. But it is Ballesteros' fellow Spaniard Garcia whose career has disappointed most.

Matteo Manassero

Matteo Manassero has enjoyed a strong start to his fledgling career. Photo: Getty Images

When Garcia came crashing into the public's consciousness in 1999, courtesy of his duel with Tiger Woods at the USPGA, the buccaneering 19-year-old looked set to form one half of a great golfing rivalry for many years to come. But Garcia has learned that being the 'New Seve' and being Seve are two different things.

So when former Walker Cup captain Peter McEvoy anointed the kid from Verona another 'New Seve' a couple of years back, you could almost hear the groans emanating from clubhouses across the land: too much weight on slim shoulders, "haven't we heard this before?" and all that.

Like Garcia, Manassero was a sensation in the unpaid ranks, becoming the youngest-ever winner of the British Amateur Championship in 2009 (at the age of 16) and winning the Silver Medal at Turnberry (he finished 13th). He then became the youngest player to make the cut at the Masters in 2010, before turning pro a month later.

Fourteen months on, Manassero already has two wins - he became the youngest-ever winner on the European Tour in Valencia last year and captured the Malaysian Open in April - and is now up to 29 in the world rankings. So far, so Garcia. But while Garcia may not have landed that elusive major, there is one 'New Seve' among the ranks who has recently been doing very Seve-like things - and who might just live up to the billing.

"Rory McIlroy's win at the US Open was a great inspiration for every young golfer," says Manassero, "because it was the second time he had been very close to winning and he took the experience of Augusta [where McIlroy blew a four-stroke lead on the final day], learnt from it and went on to dominate at Congressional.

"It made me think I could pull the same thing off if I was in the same situation. It's not really about being as good as someone else, it's about winning when you find yourself in certain situations."

Manassero, in common with most sportsmen and women, is uncomfortable with being labelled the new anything, but happy to admit Ballesteros, who died in May, has been his idol since he first teed it up as a toddler.

"[His death] did affect me," says Manassero, whose English is impeccable. "I had the chance to meet him once, when I was four or five, and he was playing in the Italian Open. He was always going to be my hero, and not just mine, he's inspired so many kids.

"They will grow up wanting to be like Seve because he played the game differently from everybody else, he was special. His death affected a lot of people in the world of golf. He is my idol, but I know I can't be like him on the golf course - we are different types of players, but I'd like to emulate what he achieved."

While Ballesteros was a swashbuckler, leaping between the masts and the rigging, Manassero keeps it more on an even keel. Ranked ninth in driving accuracy this season, 17th in greens in regulation, his only weakness is his lack of distance off the tee - he is 201st this season out of 210 on the European Tour.

However, he is confident his game is tailored to links golf, and Royal St George's, where accuracy is key, in particular. "I need more body strength, better length off the tee, but I'm going in the right direction," says Manassero. "I've gained a few yards, I'm getting better scores, and if you improve yourself, you'll get more chances and hopefully be able to convert them.

"The Open is the major that suits me best, I feel comfortable on a links course. I don't have to hit the ball too far, I can be precise off the tee and with my iron shots and play with the wind. I have to fix my putting a little bit but I'm starting to play some really good golf and I'm feeling positive."

So while the great Garcia-Woods rivalry never transpired, perhaps Manassero-McIlroy will be where golf is at a couple of years down the line. "I'm number 29 in the world and people are saying my biggest rival in golf is Rory McIlroy," says Manassero, "but I don't know about that.

"Rory is a fantastic player and I'm only just starting to compete in majors. But it would be fantastic - for fans, for golf and for me and Rory. But I don't feel any pressure from the fans and the media, because I'm already full of expectations that I put on myself. Everything people say about me I expect to do."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Top quality player and very gracious also. Will definitely go far.

  • Comment number 2.

    This boy is the business. Work on his putting? OMG, from what I've seen he's already as good as anyone out there in that department. Seems to have a PERFECT temperament for golf also.

  • Comment number 3.

    I remember the interview after he walked off the 18th hole in 2009, he spoke so well, had so much respect for everyone he was playing with and learning from... like MATTLEHAGI says, he seems to have the PERFECT temperament for Major golf. Great kid, and one of those guys that everyone will be willing up the leaderboard for years to come!

  • Comment number 4.

    If only things would work out the way we would like but they seldom do. If we can go back and read this blog in 10 years time, I wonder how relevant it will be. The media love to have the "new" everyone from Pele to Senna. I hate this burden put on anyone and I hope that Manassero just ignores it and fulfills his potential to become great European golfer in world golf. The guy oozes class.

  • Comment number 5.

    Manassero is an amazing young talent and could possibly win the british open this year if he hits form.

  • Comment number 6.

    We shouldn't get too hung up with his length off the tee. The lad is still only 18 and is still developing. He will get naturally stronger for another 3 or so years and with that will come distance.

    If Lee, Luke or Poults don't win The Open, I'd love to see Sergio do it. Might be what he needs to get back to that fearless kid we saw in 99!

  • Comment number 7.

    Unfortunately the weather will make this years open a bigger lottery than ever, whoever manages to get a favourable starting time on the first two days will gain a huge advantage,after that it will be the player who plays best in the wind and the rain and my bet and best wishes go to Lee Westwood.

  • Comment number 8.

    As Tom Watson is by far the greatest ever links player the game has ever seen its only right this kid has learned a few things watching the great man play

  • Comment number 9.

    Now that 606 is closed, the only threads that people can comment on are the blogs like this. They are reserved for the articles Auntie wants us to talk about. Is there any way that you can make every article that is written on the BBC sport site have a function like this one so that we can comment? Discussion is good and should be availale for all. Not just fans of golf or Manchester United when Rooney is being hyped or whatever other hyperbole the BBC sport pundits want to spout. I haven't read this article so this does not include this blog. But I think people should have the choice on this site, it is the BBC after all, to discuss whichever sport and team/player they choose.

  • Comment number 10.

    I think we all miss 606, but the BBC are not going to bring it back no matter what. It's like a death in the family, we all miss it but have to get used to living without it in the future.

  • Comment number 11.

    But this small change would bring a great addition to the site.

  • Comment number 12.

    We shouldn't forget that Sergio has enjoyed a remarkable career to date, achieved more at an earlier age than any current European golfer (not incl J-M O then) other than McIlroy and McDowell.
    Many golf fans will hope that Sergio will become the new Garcia, Major-winning and gallery idol, and how wonderful it would be if he could win this week. And good luck to Matteo, your day will come.

    Also agree with billypockets - for more informed comment on The Open Championship, please go to www.606v2.

  • Comment number 13.

    mattlehagi - Yep, the last time I checked he was top-20 in putting, too.

    onlywingman - Agreed. He's still a kid, really, so he will fill out naturally and might add 20-30 yards in the coming years. Still think he's got the game to win this as it is.

    kwiniaskagolfer - I don't think anyone would disagree that Garcia has had a remarkable career to date, but that doesn't mean it hasn't been a disappointment. Anyone who watched the USPGA in 1999 would have thought he'd have a few majors in the bag by now.

  • Comment number 14.

    I like everything about Matteo and I can't wait for him to win his first major and become the best in the world.

  • Comment number 15.

    Ben,
    Perhaps it's the journalist's job to deal in hyperbole, maybe the fan's task to keep everything in perspective. As one who was desperately disappointed for Sergio at Carnoustie and Oakland Hills, and also at Ridgewood, his triumph at The Players was thrilling.
    We'd all do well to remember that Tigers, even Seves, only come along once or twice a generation; anointing the promising with the burden of greatness is a dangerous business, as I said, perhaps the journalist's job.

  • Comment number 16.

    So looking forward to this year's Open, and for once it's not being telecast in the middle of the night here in NZ, no more crime or soap TV for four nights, yahoo!!

  • Comment number 17.

    Good to see McIlroy struggling, all the hype after one victory was slightly overboard. Has anyone else noticed he has a new arrogant swagger. The fact that he took so much time off between tournaments shows he is just a kid with a long way to go to match the dedication and brilliance of tiger

  • Comment number 18.

    WHY DOES THE BBC CHOOSE TO IGNORE THE COPA AMERICA?

    Uruguay beat Peru in one semi final on Tuesday night but look at the BBC site and you wouldn't even know the tournament was taking place.

    If you want to know how Dumbarton got on in their friendly with Partick Thistle - no worries. Uruguay/Peru, from the continent that brought us Pele, Maradona, Alfredo de Stefano, Lionel Messi? Look elsewhere because you'll find nothing here!

    (Dumbarton beat Thistle 4-1)

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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