Matteo Manassero could be forgiven an attack of nerves after teeing off in his first event as a professional with Colin Montgomerie as a playing partner, but the 17-year-old ended his baptism just three off the pace at the Italian Open. Manassero, who last month became the youngest player to make a cut at the Masters, shot a two-under-par 70 for his first round yesterday.
Marcus Fraser of Australia, the recent Ballantine's Championship winner, and Graeme Storm and Robert Rock of Britain were the early leaders, all carding five-under-par 67s to be a stroke ahead of the field. "It was a really steady round and I really liked how I played today," Manassero told reporters after his round yesterday. "I didn't putt really great but then I didn't have that many close chances.
"I was a little nervous on the first tee, like always at big tournaments, but fortunately I'm getting used to it." Manassero played alongside Montgomerie, the Europe's Ryder Cup captain, and the young Italian added: "It was nice talking to Colin. We got to know each other." Their conversations were largely restricted to the tee because the eight-time European number one was rarely on a fairway as he slumped to a 76.
"He was very impressive and he has a good future," Montgomerie said of his playing partner. Of his own performance, the 46-year-old Briton added: "My golf is non-explainable." Europe's captain is struggling to make the halfway cut, lying nine strokes behind the early front-runners. Manassero had to wait to make his professional debut when the morning's play was delayed by two hours while the hosting Royal Park course was mopped up following heavy rain the previous day.
Meanwhile, Anthony Kim, the American Ryder Cup star faces an expected 10-12 week lay-off after undergoing left thumb surgery on Wednesday. The world No 11, third at the Masters a month ago and winner in Houston a week earlier, decided to have the operation after pulling out of the Players Championship in Florida. "While I had hoped to be able to continue to play through the injury, compensating for it was starting to cause other issues, including a sore shoulder," he said. "We had to get it fixed."
The surgery was performed by Dr Thomas Graham, chief of the National Hand Centre in Baltimore, who said: "Anthony sustained a high grade partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament of his left thumb several months ago. "Over the course of the last several months of tournament play, the status of the ligament proved insufficient for Anthony to compete on Tour. "I was extremely pleased with how the repair of the ligament went."
Kim is certain to miss next month's US Open and the British Open at St Andrews in July may come too soon for him, but he will certainly hope to be available for October's Ryder Cup in Wales. * Agencies