Manassero Makes Masters Push at Innisbrook
By Stephanie Wei under European PGA Tour

World No. 1 Kaymer takes a front-row seat to watch Manassero

17-year-old Matteo Manassero has won a European Tour event, the Castello Masters, which actually happened to be held at Sergio Garcia’s home course, but he isn’t old enough to drive in Italy, where the age requirement is 18. Asked if he thought that was ironic, the charming Italian wunderkind, laughing, said, “Yeah, it’s definitely strange.” But Matteo won’t have to wait much longer to try for a driver’s permit. He turns 18 in April and hopes to have his license when he’s 19.

He already has a starter car picked out.

“I’m going to buy a BMW,” said Manassero during his press conference at Innisbrook’s Copperhead course. “There are some restrictions in Italy, the first year you get a license. There’s some law that says you can’t buy such a fast car, like a Ferarri. You have to pass one year of driving before you can buy normal, faster cars.”

He says he might splurge on a Ferarri just before he turns 20. For now, a BMW is “perfect.”

Ranked No. 55 in the world, Manassero, who received a sponsor’s exemption for this week’s Transitions Championship and next week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, is trying to play his way to the top-50 for an invite to The Masters, where he placed T36 last year as an amateur.

“I’m thinking about making a good week and we’ll see the result that is going to come,” he said. “Obviously a lot of my focus is getting in The Masters and getting a good four scores here is going to help a lot, so that’s what I’m trying to do.”

While he’s grown three inches in the past year (and says he’s still growing!) and has started to work with a trainer to gain strength and yardage, his lack of power is well known, but so are his consistency and short game prowess. When he was 6-8 years old, he spent all his time chipping and putting. It’s no surprise he enjoys practicing chipping more than hitting balls on the range.

“That’s the part of the game that I really like to train and try new things,” said Manassero.

Let me tell you, though — it’s quite enjoyable to watch him swing on the practice tee. In fact, on Wednesday afternoon, world No. 1 Martin Kaymer even took a break from his practice and pulled up a front-row seat to “watch the Italian Wonder.”

I’ve known he’s a great talent, but after speaking to him and watching him in person, I’m throwing my vote to him as the first of the current under-25s to win a major.

Look out for him this week at Innisbrook. The course sets up rather nicely for his game. It’s not particularly long and sharp iron play is key, along with good touch around the small greens.

“It’s a fantastic golf course,” he said. “It’s different I think from a usual Florida course. It kind of looks like some European courses, too, so I’m liking it.”

Manassero tees off at 1:22pm on Thursday. He’s paired with Sergio Garcia, whom he calls a good friend, and Zach Johnson.

“Sergio and I played quite a lot before together, even in Europe and the British Open, too. We are quite friendly and I know him well. It’s definitely a great pairing.”