Matteo Manassero, who turned 20 only last month, birdied the fourth playoff hole, to capture the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event (the equivalent to The Players Championship on the PGA Tour). A trio of players finished regulation at 10-under and went into a sudden death playoff — Marc Warren was eliminated after the first extra hole and Simon Khan battled with Manassero for three more.
Manassero became the youngest player to win this tournament, which is a super big deal (imagine if say, Rickie Fowler, won The Players, a few years ago), and he has now won four European Tour events at merely 20 years, 37 days old, which is more than both Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy at the same age.
Now before you jump all over me and say, “THEY’RE EUROPEAN TOUR EVENTS! THE FIELDS ARE WEAKER!” or, “Tiger was in college!”
Well, those are both true statements, but Manny is *still* underrated. I mean, I know some of you, especially Americans, are like, “So, what? He hasn’t won on the PGA Tour.” To that, I’d reply, so, what? Most of us at 20 were doing keg stands at a college frat party. Plus, the field at Wentworth is the best of the season and stronger than this week’s PGA Tour event, the Colonial Invitational.
“I’m feeling amazing about this win. I also feel really proud and honored to have won the flagship event,” said Manassero, who was in contention at this event two years ago. “I feel extremely happy. Extremely happy because this place has always had a real special feeling to me and I was in contention in 2011, (but) couldn’t do it. That was Luke’s (Donald) time, but I’m so proud to win this year.”
As I mentioned, Woods was still playing at Stanford when he was 20 and had only made eight PGA Tour starts. However, Rory, who turned professional at 18, is a much better comparison.
It took Manny only 19 starts to earn his first victory at the 2010 Castellon Masters. At 17 years, 188 days, he is the youngest to have won on the European Tour. Then, merely five months later, just a few days before his 18th birthday, he won the 2011 Malaysian Open, and last November, he secured the Singapore Open title.
On the other hand, Rory, who overall had more success at more prestigious events at the same age, didn’t secure his first victory on the European Tour *until* he was 19 at the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic.
At 20 years, one month, Rory had one win in 51 starts, while Manassero has four in 72.
McIlroy also finished T5 at the Match Play when he was 19. Then, the summer shortly after he turned 20, Rory finished T10 at the U.S. Open and T3 at the PGA Championship. And, of course, he was 21 when he won the 2011 U.S. Open.
While Manny has won more than Rory, it hadn’t translated to larger events with stronger fields until today. Manassero’s victory also secured him a spot in the U.S. Open in a few weeks, so he doesn’t have to play in the 36-hole qualifier anymore. He still has three more opportunities this year to win a major as a 20 year old (and one next year at the Masters).
Theoretically, Manassero’s game should suit Merion very well. While he might not be nearly as good of a ballstriker as Rory, he has an excellent short game and has spent the past few years building strength and changing his swing to gain distance. Which appears to have paid off — he drilled a 300-plus yard drive in the playoff.
“I feel that my work has paid off,” said Matteo. “You know, as you can say, I lost some weight in the off‑season, and everybody tells me, have you been sick, or you’ve just done that on purpose. I’ve done that on purpose and I’ve lost some weight, and I’m trying now to add some distance.
“I think I’ve added already some distance with the driver. I’ve hit some good drives today. The one on 18, it was‑‑ obviously the fairway is kind of firm, so that says it all. But I think I added some distance, and it’s obviously very important. I was saying it when I was ten yards shorter; I need to add some yardage to be able to compete in certain events.”
After Matteo’s victory, Rory tweeted at him, “You are making me feel old” and “#phenom.”
“I’m happy that he wrote that Tweet,” said Manassero, who is a very mature 20 year old, laughing. “He is a bit older than me. But I’m happy that he’s wrote something nice like that. You know, I’ve got so much respect for Rory.
“I have been saying this for a few years, I can say that for sure, that I think he’s got the best game, the most talented player out here. He achieved so much. So I’ve got so much respect for him and I’m just happy that he tweeted something like that.”
Good for Matteo. He’s such a nice kid.
Meanwhile, it was Lee Westwood’s to lose and he lost. He had a two-shot lead and then in the next seven holes, he dropped five shots. His usually laser-straight driver suddenly went awry and then he missed a ton of short-ish putts.
“It’s not like I’ve three-putted the last or something,” he said. “I know the swing faults are there. And if you’re under pressure and you want to fall back on good technique and you haven’t got it, you pay the price. I’m not upset.”
Westwood shot 40 on the back nine and ended up finishing T9.