Two days before his eighteenth birthday, Matteo Manassero won the Malaysia Open to collect his second victory on the European Tour (the event is co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour). Meanwhile, just a week after his final-round Masters collapse, Rory McIlroy almost forced a playoff to complete a remarkable recovery.
McIlroy squandered a stroke after a three-putt double-bogey on No. 12, but charged back with birdies on three of the next five holes. Needing to drain a 40-footer on the last hole, he blew it past and ended up three-putting for bogey to lose by two shots and place third.
Are we seeing a theme here? (Putting!)
Manassero kicked off the back nine by holing his approach for eagle on the par 5 and following it with a birdie on the next to build some momentum. The Italian teen dropped one on No. 12, but rolled in a ten-footer on No. 14 for birdie to take the lead for good.
Last month Manassero played several weeks on the PGA Tour in hopes to jump to the top-50 and secure an invitation to the Masters. He came up just short, but after this victory, he will break through and climb to No. 35 in the world rankings. If he stays in the top-50 for the next five weeks, he’ll earn exemptions to the season’s remaining three majors.
“I just missed Augusta, but playing the other three will be fantastic,” Manassero told the European Tour website. “I’m really proud of that, and the next target will be winning another tournament, keeping the momentum going.”
Last month at Bay Hill Manassero told me he was unsure if he was playing in THE PLAYERS yet — it sounded like it depended on his world ranking and whether he would be eligible for the event.
For now, Matteo will just worry about ringing in 18 years on Tuesday back in Verona, Italy.
“I couldn’t imagine anything better – going back home to celebrate my 18th birthday and my second victory on The European Tour,” he said. “I’ll have a big dinner and celebrate both.”
Last year Manassero made history when he won the Castello Masters, becoming the youngest champion on the European Tour. Now, he’s the youngest with two victories.
“It feels amazing – it’s a great achievement,” he said. “As I always say I could never have expected it all to have one win before I was 18 and now I’ve got two.
“I had a really good week from the beginning. I didn’t miss many shots apart from the second round when I didn’t play great but I was still able to finish well and get in contention. I had a really good weekend and managed to get the win.
Manassero also paid tribute to his golfing hero, Seve Ballasteros.
“He is and will always be,” he added. “I grew up watching Costantino (Rocca), Seve and Tiger (Woods). I thought Seve was the kind of player I wanted to be.
“The crowd was cheering for him and he was different to everyone else. He is a great person and a symbol of what a person should be. He sent me a letter after I won in Spain. That was nice.”
Manassero certainly has plenty of charm, not to mention poise and humility. (He also has really great manners. He might be one of the nicest kids I’ve ever met.)
“At this moment I’m pretty disappointed but it was a good week,” said McIlroy who traveled nearly 30 hours a day after his Masters meltdown. “I started off really well in the tournament. To shoot the scores that I did considering the travelling is a pretty good effort. That little stretch of birdies were good (at the 14th, 16th and 17th). I knew I needed them. It was unfortunate on the last. I thought it was a good drive but I hit it on the upslope of the bunker and hit an eight iron into the green and it was a difficult putt.
“It has been a good week, I enjoyed coming to Kuala Lumpur. I’m disappointed with the result but everything else was positive. I’m proud of myself at how I picked myself up from last week and the way I came back on the back nine today.”
Of course, McIlroy also had kind words for Manassero.
“Matteo is fantastic,” praised McIlroy. “He is a great talent — to get two wins on the European Tour before your 18th birthday is pretty special. He is great and we’ve known he is a great player. He deserves it.”
He sure does — congrats and Happy Birthday, Matteo!
(AP Photo/Vincent Thian)