PGA Championship: Matteo Manassero turns from boy to man after Seve-esque finish to play-off
Italian player displays maturity beyond his years to triumph at Wentworth
In his green Seve-on-Sunday trousers Matteo Manassero strode down the final play-off hole like a maestro of old. Thirty years on from the day Seve Ballesteros won this very event at Royal St George's, the 20-year-old Manassero became the tournament's youngest winner.
It is his fourth professional win, secured at the fourth play-off hole. Manassero makes no secret of his love of Ballesteros, who would have been thrilled at the way this championship was settled. Tied at 10 under par alongside Simon Khan and Marc Warren, Manassero had only one thought en route to the 18th tee.
Warren took himself out of the equation immediately with a poor drive that required him to play three off the tee. Manassero and Khan both went for the green in two and were rewarded with birdies, which saw them return to the tee in buggies for another go.
Wentworth is a marvellous setting but in circumstances such as these a victim of a dated design. With no loop back to the clubhouse the course is not made for play-offs. The holes stretch out one after another to the ninth then turn for home, making it the 18th recurring if play-offs are halved.
Second time around Manassero was short and right in two, handing Khan a notional advantage were he to go for the green. With the temperatures falling the risk was increasing. He declined the invitation. Both made par. Then birdie. At the fourth time of asking the tournament gave us a champion.
Khan found water off the tee. It had to happen at some point. Manassero stepped up to hit the approach of his life. He knew the moment it found the putting surface rolling to 20 feet that the title was his. Khan was on the green in four, Manassero six inches from the hole in three. Game over.
"I'm the happiest man in the world right now, so proud to have my name on this trophy," he said. "I was less tense walking the last few holes. You have done all you could have done in 72 holes. The rest is just about hitting regular shots and trying to make it as easy as possible. I managed to hit four good tee shots, which is the most important thing on this hole."
Warren was left to rue another missed opportunity after a bogey on the 15th ultimately proved costly. The 32-year-old bogeyed four of the last five holes in the recent Spanish Open to finish one shot outside the play-off and also squandered a three-shot lead with four to play in last year's Scottish Open.
"The other two occasions I felt as if I probably gave those away. This time, I didn't do that," said Warren, who holed out from 114 yards for a fourth birdie in succession on the 13th after his second shot had caught the lip of a fairway bunker.
"On 18 I had hit three or four iron all week and we thought in the play-off the guys are going to go for it so I had to go for it, and unfortunately the tee shot was either five yards too far short or too far right and that was the end of that. I've done absolutely nothing wrong this week, and it's all positives and looking forward to my next event."
The victory adds £660,000 to Manassero's bank account and who knows how much to his value as a golfing commodity. It also absolved him from US Open qualifying today. His presence at Merion is unlikely to be decorative. A small, tight course, Merion is made for the gentle computing of Manassero, who finesses a golf ball as beautifully as any.
It was gone 7pm when he finally took possession of the trophy, almost bedtime you imagined looking at features that did not appear old enough to be out so late. But they are. With this victory, Manassero told us he is no longer a boy but a man. He heads to Sweden this week for the Nordea Masters at a career-high ranking of 30 and as a player in demand.
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