2010 Masters: Manassero turned heads in his debut

Augusta, Ga. | More than a dozen media members were waiting for Matteo Manassero as he walked off the 18th green Sunday at Augusta National. Behind them, a group of Southern girls in sundresses also awaited the new star.

Young, charming and full of potential, Manassero is a popular man – well, boy, actually – in the golf world. All at just a week shy of his 17th birthday.

He’ll likely soon be a rich boy, too. Manassero, a resident of Verona, Italy, will make his professional debut May 6-9 at the BMW Italian Open. He will be represented by IMG, industry sources said.

Manassero (Class of 2012) plans to complete his high-school studies through home-schooling or online courses.

When asked if he was too young to notice the female fans that followed him around Augusta National, where he tied for 36th to earn low-amateur honors, he smiled sheepishly and said, “No, I’m not too young. I like that.”

Manassero has had plenty of success overseas in the past year, winning the 2009 British Amateur and tying for 13th at the British Open. The Masters helped introduce him to American audiences.

He made history with his opening tee shot at the Masters, becoming the youngest competitor in tournament history. By advancing to the weekend, Manassero became the youngest player to make a Masters cut. He finished at 4-over 292 (71-76-73-72).

Manassero hasn’t been rattled by playing in high-profile groups. He was paired with Tom Watson at last year’s British Open, and with 36-hole co-leader Lee Westwood for the first two rounds at Augusta National.

“Definitely this will help, in all areas, to play with these guys, be comfortable with this crowd and to understand that I can compete with these guys,” he said of his Masters experience.

He’s the first amateur to make the cut at Augusta National since Ryan Moore five years ago. No British Amateur champ had played the weekend since Sergio Garcia in 1999.

Manassero has fared well against professional competition.

He made the cut in five of six starts on the European Tour last season, posting three top 25s.

“That’s why he’s turning pro, because he plays better when the game is hard, and the tournament is on a tough course,” said his caddie, Alberto Binaghi. Binaghi, a former Challenge Tour winner, coaches Italy’s national amateur team.

Manassero is not like other recent young stars, brash bombers who overpower courses. He’s confident but soft-spoken and plays a game that emphasizes accuracy.

Of the 48 players who made the cut, Manassero finished 46th in driving distance (272.8 yards). He hit it straight, missing only eight fairways for the week to rank second in driving accuracy.

At 5 feet, 11 inches and a slender 170 pounds, he looks like he could grow and perhaps add muscle through strength training.

“He’s got skills,” said his final-round playing partner, Dustin Johnson. “He’s very well-composed. I was surprised. He handled himself very well.”

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