Matteo Manassero’s meteoric rise to prominence reached another level this week at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. The 17-year-old Italian, who is No. 56 in the Official World Golf Ranking, became the youngest player to enter a World Golf Championships event, beating the record previously held by Ryo Ishikawa of Japan. (Manassero will be 17 years, 310 days on Feb. 23; Ishikawa was 18 years, 153 days when he set the record.)
The Match Play, held at Ritz-Carlton GC in Marana, Ariz., marked Manassero’s first event in the U.S. since turning professional. His only other appearance in the States was at the 2010 Masters, where as a 16-year-old amateur he became the youngest player to make the cut and, after a tie for 36th, produced the best result by a European amateur in 73 years. After taking up European Tour membership, he closed the season even stronger, winning the Castelló Masters Costa Azahar and finishing second and third at the UBS Hong Kong Open and the Omega European Masters, respectively.
Interestingly enough, Manassero’s first-round match at the Ritz-Carlton Club was against American Steve Stricker, who at age 44 was the second-oldest player in the field (Miguel Angel Jiménez was the oldest at 47). Manassero won two holes late to pull out the 2-and-1 victory and advance to the Round of 32, where he’ll face South African Charl Schwartzel.
Manassero is part of a trio of promising young Italian players. Francesco Molinari won the WGC-HSBC Champions late last year, and his other brother, Edoardo, was part of the victorious 2009 Omega Mission Hills World Cup team and the 2010 European Ryder Cup squad.