'Next Seve' signs off as amateur with a flourish

Manassero heralded as future champion after winning Silver Cup at the Masters
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The Independent Online

When Lee Westwood and Matteo Manassero walked off the 18th green together on Friday evening, one was leading the Masters but the other had already booked a place at last night's Butler Cabin presentation ceremony. While Westwood still had a full weekend's work ahead of him in an attempt to fulfil the reunion, by making the cut Manassero was guaranteed the Silver Cup as the leading amateur.

Manassero, at 16 the youngest ever Masters participant, was the only one of six amateurs to play all four rounds this year and the only one of four teenagers in the field to progress. His talent, as well as the dashing good looks and a natural charisma, have attracted many admirers this week. A certain amount of swooning has been going on in the gallery. "He has the most beautiful arm swing I have ever seen," said three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo.

Yesterday was the last time he will wear his favourite Azzurri blue shirt of the Italian Golf Federation. After this he will be on his own. He will turn professional on his 17th birthday and make his debut on the European Tour at his home Italian Open next month.

Already Manassero has been called the "next Seve". Seve Ballesteros is his hero, along with Costantino Rocca, and if anyone can make Italians fall in love with golf, or at least take an interest when the football is not on, it is this undoubted prodigy.

He started golf at the age of three after his mother discovered that watching the sport on television was the only way she could get the toddler to eat anything. Last summer he became the youngest winner of the British Amateur Championship and finished 13th at the Open at Turnberry. Tom Watson became a fan after playing two rounds with the Italian. Watson, like so many others in the game, just think Manassero "has it".

Where Seve was wild and thrilling however, Manassero is steady and consistent, not the longest but yesterday he was never going to catch bomber Dustin Johnson off the tee. But he showed on the back nine on Friday with a number of vital saves that he can scramble when it matters and his best attribute is a good golfing head. Tiger Woods could certainly learn something about combining passion and decorum from a player less than half his age.

Alberto Binaghi, the former Italian tour player who is Manassero's coach and caddie, says he is not turning professional for the glory but is ready to work his socks off for the next 20 to 25 years. It is thought the International Management Group will be guiding his career, with a signing-on fee rumoured to be in seven figures.

Manassero will continue his schooling remotely while on tour but his parents agree that he is ready for pro life. His father Roberto says his age is not a problem. "What's important is that he's tranquil," he added. "Matteo is not a self-absorbed person. I see with all the attention he's getting at tournaments, he's still the same Matteo."

Asked this week in an interview why he did not use an interpreter, Manassero replied: "Because I speak English." Simple, really.