x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Mature Manassero is taking it all in his stride

The 17-year-old rising star of European golf has the chance over the next four days to earn himself a place in next year's Masters.

When Matteo Manassero completed his dream debut at The Masters in April he could not be sure he would ever return to Augusta.

But, amazingly, the 17-year-old rising star of European golf has the chance over the next four days to earn himself a place in next year's event.

Only six months on from turning professional, Manassero goes into the Dubai World Championship knowing the opportunity is there to end the season in the game's top 50 - even the top 30 if he was to win. At the start of the year he was ranked 570th.

Most of the attention at Jumeirah Golf Estates will be on Graeme McDowell's attempt to deny Martin Kaymer the European Tour money list title and Kaymer's attempt to dethrone Lee Westwood as the world No 1.

Just to be part of the elite 60-man field shows what rapid strides Manassero has made, but the best might yet be to come.

"It's been a great season that's going to end with this beautiful tournament," said Manassero, who five weeks ago became the European Tour's youngest-ever winner and then on Sunday finished joint runner-up behind Ian Poulter at the Hong Kong Open after a closing 62.

"The goal is to play good golf again and then we'll see what happens," he said. "I'm aware of The Masters, the World Match Play (the top 64 get into that in February and he is 62nd) and many things that I would like to do.

"But no rush. I never expected to be in this situation so quickly, but now that I am obviously I'm looking forward and seeing what is coming next. The scores that I've had make you believe even more than you can get good results wherever you play."

Manassero was only 16 when he finished 13th at the British Open last year and then 36th at The Masters in April, the best performance by a European amateur at Augusta for 73 years.

"I remember wondering there when I might be back," he added. "And it was the same watching the Ryder Cup last month."

With fellow Italians Edoardo and Francesco Molinari in Europe's side, Manassero was invited inside the ropes at Celtic Manor, Wales, to get a taste of a match he will surely experience for himself in the coming years.

"It was a great experience, but the next match is not a target, it's a dream," Manassero said.

It is hard to believe that at the start of September he was battling to avoid a trip to the Tour qualifying school.

Now he has earnings for the year of over €846,705 (Dh4.1 million) and could more than double that on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy revealed he is thinking of putting his bid to win the Race to Dubai next year ahead of playing at the Players Championship next May in Sawgrass in the United States, an event dubbed the unofficial "fifth major".

"I don't like the course," he said yesterday. "That's one of the reasons I'm undecided whether to play it or not.

"You have the World Match Play Championship in Spain and the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth [going on at the same time] and they are two big events in the Race to Dubai."