The Italian Almanac
A Young Tiger
When it comes to precocious feats, Italy's Matteo Manassero has already outdone a golfing great of the stature of Tiger Woods.
Last year, when 16, he became the youngest player to take part in the US Masters - Woods was three years older when he debuted at Augusta in 1995 - and went on to go down as the youngest player to make the cut there. He followed that up in October by becoming the European Tour's youngest ever tournament winner by triumphing at the Castello Masters in Spain aged 17 years, 188 days. The sensational form continued with him winning the Malaysian Open two days before his 18th birthday last month for a second victory on the European Tour - a worldwide programme despite the name - propelling him into the top 50 of the world rankings. So it is perhaps not surprising that bookmakers are already giving odds on him becoming the world number one.
''Off the green Manassero is a lad like any other, but as soon as he is competing, he is like a player who has 10 years of experience under his belt,'' said Italian national team coach Alberto Binaghi, who also often acts as the teen's caddy. ''I can tell you, that's something you don't often see in someone so young''.
As well as the results he has achieved at such a tender age, Manassero has also drawn comparisons to the likes of fellow prodigies Woods and the late Severiano Ballesteros for his unassuming nature and cool head under pressure. He does not seem to be letting the praise being heaped on him inflate his ego and stresses he has to keep working hard and stay humble to keep moving up.
The Verona native started playing golf when he was just three after catching his father's passion for the game. He exploded on to the international scene when he became the youngest winner of the British Amateur Championship aged 16 years and 63 days in 2009. That feat earned him a place later in the year at the British Open, where he claimed the silver medal for finishing as the leading amateur, and at the 2010 Masters.
''My dream is to win a major and play in the Ryder Cup, which I think is the same for all golfers,'' he said. ''I don't feel this fame as a weight on me, I'm happy that the media are talking about young people for once''.