With Seve in his heart Manassero on golfs fast track
And even when Seve Ballesteros was in town.
“It was special for me,” Manassero said Tuesday, recalling the time his hero came to Garda Golf Country Club in Italy. “I used to watch him on TV, and when I saw him that day in real life, it was great. Everything about him was different. That’s why I liked him so much.”
Before long, they were chipping together. Manassero said it was a “funny” moment, then explained later what he meant.
“I holed a chip,” he said. “That’s why it was so fun.”
Even at such an early age, the kid proved to be a quick study.
Alberto Binaghi, a former European Tour player who now coaches him, remembers when Manassero was barely big enough to hold a golf club and already was looking for some competition.
“He would want to have a putting or a chipping contest with you, and he would stand over the putt like this,” Binaghi said, stopping to crouch and narrow his eyes to demonstrate how Manassero was determined to make everything. “He wanted to beat you.”
That much about him hasn’t changed.
Manassero is the youngest player ever at The Players Championship, and there’s a reason for that.
When he won the Malaysian Open last month against a field that included Rory McIlroy and the last two major champions (Martin Kaymer and Charl Schwartzel), he became the first player in European Tour history to win twice before turning 18. He celebrated his 18th birthday two days later.
It was the only the latest record to fall.
Manassero was the youngest to win the British Amateur as a 16-year-old in 2009. That got him into the British Open at Turnberry, where he played the first two rounds with Tom Watson and wound up tied for 13th, the youngest low amateur at golf’s oldest championship. Then he became the youngest to make the cut at the Masters at age 16 when he tied for 39th last year.
The connection he felt with Ballesteros remains strong.
Manassero was playing the Spanish Open last week when Ballesteros died Saturday of a cancerous brain tumor. The Spanish great wrote to Manassero when he won the Castello Open in Spain last fall. Ballesteros had such an influence on Manassero that the Italian teenager is known to wear bright green pants, as his idol once did.
“It’s been two sad years,” Manassero said. “He fought for a long time against this thing. With his big heart and his disposition to fight all the time, he’s been able to go against it. But it was going to happen. It was a sad day in Spain. We lost one of the best, a guy who changed the game. His personality was different from the others. In some ways, he changed golf because he played a different game.”
If there are any similarities between Manassero and Ballesteros, it is there appearance – dark and handsome, an engaging smile. Despite so much success so early in his career, Manassero is playful and unfailingly polite.
Their games couldn’t be more different.
Manassero lacks power off the tee, and always has. He is working to add more length, not so much by changing his swing but by strengthening a body that has yet to fill out. But it comes with some advantages. Even when he was old enough to play at his home club of Garda Golf, getting to the green in two shots was never easy. As accurate as he was off the tee, he couldn’t reach some greens in regulation and had to figure out how to get his par.
“When I was very young and not so powerful, you have to do it that way to make par, by making up-and-downs from 50 yards,” he said. Then pausing to smile, he added, “I always hated making bogeys.”
Manassero broke into the top 50 with his win at Malaysia and is at No. 33 in the world this week. He is assured of playing the U.S. Open and British Open, along with the PGA Championship.
“This is not a 17-year-old or 18-year-old person thinking,” Alvaro Quiros said. “He’s more mature than the rest of us. It shows that if you are sensible and smart, you can succeed. He is so mature. Matteo is a 35-year-old in the body of an 18-year-old.”
Luke Donald had not played with him until the third round at the Match Play Championship, which Donald won on his way to winning the World Golf Championship.
“For 17, extremely impressive,” Donald said. “He’s way ahead of where I was when I was 17. A great talent and a good kid, too.”
He is part of the youth movement, and the youngest of that group, as always.
Manassero started early and has been devouring everything about golf for most of his life. He remembers the most important advice Watson gave him during their two rounds at Turnberry.
“He just said to me, ‘Keep playing like this, and keep your hunger for this game,”’ Manassero said. “I love this game. I love to compete. I always watch on TV when guys are leading tournaments, wanting to be in that position.”
Despite all his early success, Manassero doesn’t appear to be in a big hurry.
For one thing, he still doesn’t know how to drive. Manassero said in Italy, he has to wait until he’s 18 before he can even take driving lessons. That will occupy part of his time this summer.
“You have to have patience in this game,” he said. “I always try to do my best, all the time. But I have to learn so much. It’s all been really fast and really good for the moment. But to make the big step, in these events, takes longer time.”
That’s one thing he has on his side.
Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge
ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.
The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.
They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.
Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.
Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.
Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.
''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''
The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.
In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''
Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.
Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia
Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.
Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.
Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.
Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.
It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.
The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.
Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son
ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.
Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.
''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''
They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.
''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''
Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.
''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''
Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.
Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.
Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.
Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?
Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.
Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”
Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.
Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.
The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.