x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Manassero set to turn pro

Teenager will make debut at Italian Open but first, the British amateur champion will be youngest player at 16 to tee off at Augusta Masters.

The 16-year-old Matteo Manassero will make his professional debut at the Italian Open in Turin on May 6-9.
The 16-year-old Matteo Manassero will make his professional debut at the Italian Open in Turin on May 6-9.

Matteo Manassero, who is only 16 years of age, will turn professional after becoming the youngest player in The Augusta Masters next month. The reigning British amateur champion, who finished 13th in The British Open last July, said at a golf show in his home town Verona that he will make his professional debut at the Italian Open in Turin on May 6-9.

Not 17 until April 19, Manassero played with Tom Watson and Sergio Garcia in the first two rounds at Turnberry and his two over par total of 282 was only one outside the Open record by an amateur, set by Iain Pyman at Sandwich in 1993 and matched by Tiger Woods at Lytham three years later. He has made the halfway cut in five out of six appearances on the European Tour so far and will be allowed seven invitations to events in a bid to avoid the qualifying school at the end of the season.

Manassero is one of four teenagers in The Masters. The United States champion, An Byeong-hun, the son of two Olympic table tennis medallists, turned 18 last September and is the same age as his compatriot Han Chang-won, winner of the Asian Amateur crown, and Ryo Ishikawa, already in the world's top 50 and a multiple winner on the Japanese Tour. Meanwhile, Hunter Mahan came from four strokes back to beat Rickie Fowler by a shot to claim the Phoenix Open title on Sunday.

Mahan, a 27-year-old American, had an eagle and a pair of birdies in a late four-hole span to finish at 16-under 268 for his second PGA Tour victory. Mahan closed with consecutive six-under 65s to finish at 16 under. He is the eighth USA-born player still in his 20s to win more than one tournament. Fowler, just 21 and a tour rookie, had a final-round 68 for the second runner-up finish of his young career, both of them in Arizona.

South Korea's YE Yang also shot a 65 to finish at 14 under, two off the pace. Last year's PGA Championship winner, Yang led until his tee shot went in the water at the 17th. Mathew Goggin, Chris Couch and Charles Howell III shared fourth at 13 under. The third-round leader, Brandt Snedeker struggled at TPC Scottsdale with a 78 to wind up far back at seven under. Although he has not won, Mahan has played well in the past two years. He played on the 2008 Ryder Cup team and had six top-10s in 2009, including a runner-up finish at the AT&T National.

"It's just finding a way to win. I just haven't been able to do it," he said. "So obviously it feels great to get off the year on my fifth tournament to win. It gives me a lot of confidence in myself that I'm doing the right things in my game, and it feels great, it really does." Going down the stretch, it was a three-way battle with Mahan, Fowler and Yang. Yang, whose PGA Championship victory made him the first Asia-born golfer to win a major, eagled No 10, then reeled off four consecutive birdies to take the lead at 15 under through 15 holes.

Trouble came, though, at No 17, where his tee shot bounced into the water. Yang's 25ft putt for par was on line but stopped an inch short of the cup, and the bogey left him at 14 under. Mahan, meanwhile, hit his second shot on the par-five 13th 250 yards within seven feet and made the eagle putt to reach 14 under. His 18ft birdie putt on the par-four 14th moved him ahead of Yang at 15 under. The clincher came at the notorious 16th, the par-three surrounded by bleachers filled with noisy, irreverent fans who cheer and boo with equal enthusiasm.

* With agencies