TURIN, Italy – The eagerly anticipated professional debut of Italian 17-year-old Matteo Manassero on Thursday may be delayed.
Five consecutive days of unseasonal heavy rain have waterlogged Royal Park Roveri, creating serious concern that the first round of the Italian Open will have to be postponed for 24 hours and the tournament reduced to 54 holes.
Manassero is scheduled to play with Colin Montgomerie and Rhys Davies, the young Welsh winner of the recent Madeira Islands Open.
It gives Montgomerie, Europe’s Ryder Cup captain, an opportunity to cast an eye on more youth potential beyond Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who won on the PGA Tour last weekend.
But the emergence of Davies, who is 10th on the European money list, and the potential of Manassero, who dazzled at the Masters, could see that number increased – especially while veterans like Sergio Garcia and Darren Clarke struggle.
“To make the team the youngsters are going to have to be damned good,” said Montgomerie, as he sheltered from the rain in Turin. “But these youngsters are good, and if they start winning the big tournaments coming up in Europe then they will deserve to be on the team.”
He knows Manassero has an amateur pedigree worthy of launching a pro career in spectacular fashion at the end of golf’s “youth week,” in which Ryo Ishikawa shot 58 in Japan and McIlroy won his first tournament in the United States.
“He is only a couple of weeks older than our youngest ever member of the tour, who was Seve Ballesteros,” Montgomerie said. “And it’s amazing to have seen him already perform at the level to win the (British) Amateur Championship, take the silver medal at the (British) Open and make the cut at the Masters.”
However, the one person without high expectations of a dramatic professional debut is Manassero himself.
“I will be nervous when I am on the first tee as I always am, but it won’t be any different to amateur tournaments,” Manassero said. “I just want to enjoy playing golf and making birdies.
“I am thinking about winning but have no pressure from it. If the chance comes and I take it, it will be a great moment, but I have no rush for that.”
Meanwhile, Montgomerie has backed down on his long-held insistence that Ryder Cup contenders should play in three key events on the European Tour this summer.
He wanted the strongest possible fields at this month’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, the Wales Open on the Ryder Cup course in June, and the Johnnie Walker at Gleneagles in August – the last qualifying event to make his team.
However, Ian Poulter has no plans to play the BMW PGA while none of the five Europeans in the world’s top 10 have signed to play the Wales Open. McIlroy and Lee Westwood already plan to play in the Memorial on the PGA Tour that week.
“I had asked everyone to play Wales,” Montgomerie said. “But it is opposite the Memorial in America which is one of their biggest events. … As long as the ones who aren’t playing Wales compete well in the Memorial I will let them off.
“I can’t tell players where to play, only ask. If they want to play over there, fine, as long as they play well. And Europe has had great success in America this year.”
Montgomerie pointed to Garcia, Poulter and Paul Casey reaching the finals of the Accenture Matchplay, where Poulter won the final over Casey, and Westwood playing himself into contention for his first major championship at the Masters.
“And McIlroy’s performance,” Montgomerie added, “to start from four behind and win by four at Quail Hollow was fantastic.”