Matteo targets majors
Italy is not a country particularly synonymous with a rich depth of golfing talent. Constantino Rocca is arguably the most established player they have produced, with three Ryder Cup appearances and a playoff-defeat to John Daly at the 1995 Open Championship.
Francesco Molinari must still be revelling in the hero status he gained when he dramatically halved with Tiger Woods at Medinah to clinch the Ryder Cup for Europe last year.
But it is the emergence of rising star Matteo Manassero that has Italian and world golfing fans on the edge of their seats.
Records began to tumble as Manassero burst onto the scene in 2009.
He became the youngest, and first Italian, to win the British Amateur Championship. Going on to become the youngest winner of the silver medal (for highest finishing amateur) at the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry was a cinch.
But his crowning feat before turning pro came at the 2010 Masters, when he became the youngest amateur to make the cut. His subsequent 36th place finish was the best performance by a European amateur in 73 years.
He turned pro soon after, and it took less than six months for him to wrap up his maiden European Tour title as he stormed to victory in the 2010 Castello Masters Costa Azahar by four strokes. He also became the youngest winner in European Tour history – by more than 365 days.
He went on to finish 31st in the Race to Dubai that year, and it was a feat he repeated in 2011 after scooping the Maybank Malaysian Open trophy.
In 2012, the wonder kid from Verona took it to another level, as he sealed a 13th place finish in the Race to Dubai. The result was in no small thanks to the astonishing cheque for more than €770 000 that he picked up for winning the Barclays Singapore Open.
All of this – and he is still just 19 years of age!
Victory in Singapore also earned him a place in the Volvo Golf Champions for the third successive year, which is taking place at Durban Country Club this week.
A first round of 75 reflected a lack of tournament golf for seven weeks, but he’s since put things right with a 69 and a 66, and Manassero believes the elite event is the ideal way to start his season.
“The first day was very rusty for me, for I think 90 per cent of us. But it's normal. It's a great event that we play here, just for that, because we play four straight rounds - maybe with a little less pressure than normal. And so it's perfect for us to just get relaxed and get the tournament rhythm going,” he said.
Despite it being a star-studded field, the Italian comes into the event as one of the higher-ranked players in the world at 44.
Those inside the top 50 receive exemption for all four majors, and Manassero is thus placing all his emphasis this year on maintaining or improving his standing on the world stage.
“I don’t really have any resolutions for 2013. I would like to finish it in the top 50 of the world rankings. That's my goal really, to make that with the competition that there is now with so many guys that play well, you must win a tournament. Or, play really, really stable for the whole season,” he noted.
“So I think that would be a great goal, just to maybe improve the ranking but stay in the top 50 and get all the majors next year, as well.”
Scott Jamieson has seized control of the showpiece in Durban, with his score of 15-under yielding a five-stroke lead over his nearest challengers after three rounds.
Manassero has been cut adrift by nine, but still believes he has much to play for on the final day and has enjoyed his steady improvement in form as the week has progressed.
“I’ve just got more comfortable, that's all. My putting stroke, I worked on it the last two days, so it has improved. After the third round, I find myself in the top 10. Today, if I can keep this rhythm that I had yesterday going, it will be great,” the 19 year-old said.
His hopes of a victory this week have all but faded in the wake of Jamieson’s exploits. But it seems as though the sky is the limit for Manassero, and there will no doubt be many more trophies on the way.
And maybe, just maybe, 2013 will be the year that he bags a major for Italy.