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Matteo Manassero comes to Abu Dhabi with Ryder Cup place in mind.
Matteo Manassero comes to Abu Dhabi with Ryder Cup place in mind.

Matteo Manassero out to impress Europe's new Ryder Cup captain

The 17-year-old Italian golf prodigy Matteo Manassero will have his eyes on Europe's Ryder Cup team when he plays in Abu Dhabi this week.

ABU DHABI // Matteo Manassero is determined to catch the eye of the new European Ryder Cup captain when he plays in Abu Dhabi over the next few days.

The identity of man who is to succeed Colin Montgomerie is due to be announced today - it is expected to be Jose Marie Olazabal - and Manassero is keen to make an early impression. One of the career goals of the 17-year-old Italian is to play in the transatlantic challenge, possibly as early as next year when the Europeans defend the trophy.

"The Ryder Cup is more like a dream than an expectation at the moment," said Manassero. "It seems so early for me but if I keep improving the way I have so far I will have a chance.

"I had a great week at Celtic Manor [in Wales] in October supporting the Molinari brothers [his fellow Italians] and the rest of the European team in the Ryder Cup and it would be wonderful if another young Italian prospect could give me the same level of support at a future Ryder Cup."

Manassero has two other immediate goals: to win another tournament fairly soon and to get into the world's top 50 - goals he will begin pursuing in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship which begins on Thursday at the National Course.

The teenager, who turned professional in May last year less than a month after his 17th birthday, is upbeat about his prospects, having impressed here on his debut as an amateur 12 months ago.

"It was an achievement for me to make the cut last year," he said.

"I had played in the British Open as an amateur and then to come to Abu Dhabi and qualify for the final two rounds was so exciting."

He believes the National Course, which will stage the event for the sixth time, suits his style of play.

"I like the venue," he said. "It is a course where you need to play well and be straight off the tee. It is quite different from Emirates [home of the Dubai Desert Classic].

"Both tournaments are comparable but the courses are different. Emirates can be quite tricky but the National Course you can see in front of you and that always appeals to me."

Manassero will stay in the UAE for Monday's Saadiyat Beach Challenge before leaving for the inaugural tour event in Bahrain. He will then return to play in next month's Dubai Desert Classic.

"This is the start of my second year and I just hope it turns out to be anything like 2010 which was a fantastic year for me," he said. "I just didn't want it to end."

And the Italian sees no reason why he cannot surpass a campaign which saw him become the youngest player to make the halfway cut in the US Masters in his final event as an amateur in April.

But he confessed he had feared that his introduction to professional golf might have turned out to be as frustrating as that of Justin Rose. The Englishman shot to prominence at the British Open in 1998 when, as a 17-year-old amateur, he finished tied for fourth place. He turned professional the following week, but missed 21 consecutive cuts at the start of his life in the paid ranks

So, it was to his great relief that Manassero recorded a first European Tour victory - the Castello Masters in Spain - towards the end of his rookie year. Not only did that triumph in Valencia herald his arrival as a serious contender on the professional circuit, it also secured him a two-year exemption into all tour events.

"That was most important to me," Manassero said. "You never know how it's going to work out when you turn pro.

"Justin had a really hard time when he left the amateur ranks. I'm so glad that I've been able to make my mark so soon and get this level of security for the next two years.

"At the beginning of a golf career it is very tough and even the greatest players have struggled a lot in their early days so I am so pleased to have captured my first title so early in my career."

 

wjohnson@thenational.ae

Abu DhabiChampionship focus, s4-5

Emirates Airline Invitational report, s6-7

 

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