Matteo Manassero drew inspiration from the achievements of fellow countryman Edoardo Molinari last weekend by providing Italian golf with another massive impetus in the Omega European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre. The 17 year old fired a flawless seven under par 64 to lead after the first round as Europe’s newest Ryder Cup rookie, Molinari, compiled a smooth 66 to be tied for fourth place. Sandwiched between the two Italians are Finland’s Mikko Ilonen and Englishman Graeme Storm on 65.
However, the stage on a glorious sunny day in the Alps belonged to the aspiring young champion, Manassero, who displayed a fearlessness associated with youth in successfully out-scoring his friend and compatriot, Molinari, by two strokes.
Last Sunday, Molinari was glued to a television set at home as Molinari birdied the final three holes to win the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles and receive a captain’s pick from Colin Montgomerie immediately afterwards.
“What Edoardo did was pretty unbelievable,” said Manassero. “You don’t see that very often. To win a championship and then to be picked for The Ryder Cup with his brother was something to inspire everybody, not just me.
“I played nine holes with him in practice. He seems very relaxed now and calm and I expect him to play good this week. He is in the best moment of his life, just won a championship, made The Ryder Cup Team; it’s been a fantastic year for him.
“I hope that more young Italians will take up golf. We hope that obviously that many, many more guys will come through.
“It’s very good to have two top players in the world and Ryder Cup players that are close to you, come from the same country and introduce you to that life. It was lucky for me. I will always respect them.”
A former British Amateur Champion, Manassero joined the paid ranks after finishing 36th at the Masters Tournament in April. That entitled him to seven invitations to try to earn enough to avoid the need to attend November's Qualifying School.
This is the sixth of those seven and while he has done well to make the cut in all the previous five, he needs a high finish either now or at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship next month.
Manassero did not drop a stroke all day and after turning in 33 added further birdies on the first, third, sixth, seventh and ninth.
“It was the perfect round,” said Manassero. “I didn’t miss many greens and when I did I recovered well with up and downs. I don’t think I could have expected better. I think seven under is the best. I think I shot a six under in Geneva but this is definitely one of my best rounds since I turned pro and I think it is the lowest.
“I have this and the Dunhill Links which is the last of seven invites and my last chance to get a card through the main Tour but I also have a chance through The Challenge Tour as well.”
That front nine 31 was not the best of the day, though. Swede Mikael Lundberg did it in 30 and a hole in one at the third earned him a bar of gold valued at €23,000, but he then came home in 39.
Ilonen almost matched Manassero withy six birdies and no dropped shots in his 65 while Storm’s solitary blemish came at the tenth where he ran up a bogey five.
Despite the drama and excitement of the previous weekend, Molinari was another who kept a bogey off his card and his round of 66 earned him a share of fourth with a group of players including England’s Robert Coles, David Drysdale of Scotland, Australian Rick Kulacz, Chapchai Nirat of Thailand and England’s Steve Webster.
“I played really nicely, had a few chances on the back nine but didn’t take them,” said Webster. “Overall, it’s a good start. I played well in the Czech Republic but played terrible last week and missed the cut so I decided not to pick up a club again until I got here.“
Omega’s newest Ambassador, 55 year old Australian Greg Norman, finally returned to action almost a year after shoulder surgery and reached the turn in one under par before rustiness kicked in. Norman came home in 40 for a round of 75 and admitted; “I loved being back out there. I got a bit derailed coming home and even thought I didn’t have any feel with my chipping, I enjoyed it.”
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