Manassero and Garcia, Current and Former Boy Wonders, Fire Three-Under Together
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Sergio Garcia kicked off his debut on American soil this year with a bogey-free 68 at Innisbrook’s Copperhead course for the first round of the Transitions Championship. With starting times pushed back due to a 70-minute fog delay, Garcia didn’t finish until nearly seven. He seemed slightly subdued, stopped to speak to the small group of reporters waiting for him. Been here, done that for the 31-year-old. Meanwhile, 17-year-old Italian wunderkind Matteo Manassero, who carded four birdies and one bogey to match Garcia’s 68, flashed a big smile and walked off the 18th green with bounce in his step, like he was ready to play another 18.

A cordial and calm Sergio seemed content with his round, but wished he could have birdied a few more holes on the back nine.

“I feel like I’m hitting some good shots and some good putts,” he said. “Overall, I think it was very good. Bogey-free on this course is never a bad thing.”

He even went to the first tee with more butterflies than usual in his stomach — an indicator that he’s glad to be playing.

“The good thing about (feeling nervous) is that means I’m going on the right track,” he said. “I care about what I’m doing and if I didn’t care at all, I probably wouldn’t even feel it.”

Sergio imparted more words about his playing partner.

“(Matteo) played good,” said Sergio. “He can play…I’ve played with him before. He’s a great kid and a wonderful player. He’s just very consistent, good short game. He doesn’t miss a lot of shots. He can do with a little more distance, obviously, but you know, the way he plays is fine. I hope that he doesn’t change his game just to try to hit it farther because, you know, it could be a problem.”

Hear that? Keep doing what you’re doing, kid.

Highlights in Manassero’s round included a clutch save on No. 13, where he went long left and knocked his chip to less than a foot.

“I played pretty solid,” he said. “I made a few good putts at the beginning and I just kept not making many mistakes. I think I had one bogey, three-putting, and that was it. I’m really happy with the start.”

With the usual bunched-up leaderboard at Innisbrook — there are 15 players who shot three-under, currently T16 — Manassero will fare well if he continues his consistent play. I bet two more three-under rounds would put him in contention on Sunday afternoon.

The challenging Copperhead course played easier than usual on Thursday, with soft greens and mild winds.

I wouldn’t mind seeing Manassero, who is trying to move up to the top-50 in the world rankings and earn a spot at The Masters, and Garcia on the leaderboard when the final round rolls around.