The Masters 2014: From amateur hour to moment of truth for mighty Matteo Manassero

Italian prodigy targets second successful Masters and Ryder Cup place

Jack and Arnie went to the first tee shortly after 7.30am, leaving behind them a trail of footprints on polished turf saturated by dew. On the clubhouse balcony golfing grandees gathered to watch the ceremonial start to the Masters. Among their number a cherubic tyro leaned across the balustrade with a sweater tied around his shoulders to protect against the early April nip.

Tom Watson approached with an avuncular pat on the back. Ben Crenshaw followed suit. The thought occurred that Watson was gathering friends and family around a table for breakfast before heading to the first tee himself, and that the youngster was probably his grandson. But the kid did not take a seat. His eyes never left the middle, glued to the now truncated swings of the two players who revolutionised the game in 1960s America.

Once Nicklaus and Palmer had left, he was off down the stairs without a word. He would be teeing off shortly. Four years on he appears taller, leaner, with the look of a man. Yet Matteo Manassero has still to celebrate his 21st birthday.

As the Amateur Champion, Manassero passed through the gates of Magnolia Drive in 2010 with 16-year-old eyes on stalks, in awe of Augusta National and of the Masters Tournament. It was, he says on reflection, a magical episode. "I was in heaven pretty much. I was on the balcony that morning because I had an early tee-time. Tom and Ben were there. Tom introduced me to Ben, whom I didn't know.

"I wanted to take everything in, to see the crowds, this beautiful place. Everything from staying at the Crow's Nest, the amateur dinner, practice round with Tom and Rory [McIlroy]. It was incredible. I was playing well so I was able to enjoy all the stuff going on around me. It was more excitement than nerves. I didn't have enough experience to worry about anything."

Manassero was at that point the youngest to have contested the Masters, a record since lowered by a 14-year-old Chinese prospect Tianlang Guan. Grouped that first morning with Lee Westwood and the former champion Trevor Immelman, the Italian birdied the first. He would go on to make the cut and birdie the last hole of the tournament to finish tied 37th, comfortably the best-placed amateur.

He returns this week as an established member of the European Tour, a player already with four professional victories to his name, more than McIlroy at the same age. The Masters, he says, favours him least of the big four but he does not discount a run at the Green Jacket, and, with the Ryder Cup looming in September, Manassero is mindful of the need to land a big one to force his way into Paul McGinley's team. "Of all the majors this is the hardest for me. That is not going to stop me giving my best and enjoying every second of a special tournament.

"I'm playing well. The aim is to have a good, stress-free Masters, almost like I did in 2010, just play with freedom. If I do that I'm sure I can do well."

This is a big year in many ways for Manassero, ending as it does with the Ryder Cup. His victory last May at the European Tour's flagship event, The BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, was his most important, a statement of real significance that thrust him into the world's top 30 for the first time, so he arrives at Augusta no longer as a novelty but as a player with a reputation to enhance.

"This time the Masters has a lot of real value for me," he said. "Back then it was an amazing experience that I wasn't sure I would do again.

"Now I have to meet the standard that brought me here. That is being professional and it's a different thing. My goal for 2014 is to do what I have managed each year as a pro, to win, and the Ryder Cup. It is difficult to make the team. Some guys have started so well they are uncatchable, but there are still some possibilities at big events. I would love to put myself in a position where the captain has to think about me."

They do not come bigger than this. The Open Championship retains its cache as the oldest major championship, but the Masters is golf's commercial driver. And to slip on that jacket has come to mean as much as raising the Claret Jug.

Manassero is not favourite to win but he is preparing to do so, which is more than good enough for one so young. "I have learned a lot of things and I am more experienced than a guy who is 20, but I still feel like a 20-year-old fortunately."

Five to follow on the Magnolia Drive to Augusta mastery

Luke Donald The form is returning after switching coaches following a disappointing finish at the US Open last year. Tied third on debut in 2005 and fourth three years ago. Top 10s at the Honda Classic and the Valspar three weeks ago mean he should command respect and suggest he is good enough to be in contention.

Stephen Gallacher Making his debut at the age of 39. The Scot earned his passage here with a commanding victory at the Dubai Desert Classic and followed that with a top-10 finish at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. Practised yesterday with former champion Sandy Lyle so won't be short of tips.

Ian Poulter Led at halfway four years ago before slipping to 10th place. Finished seventh two years ago. Last year's missed cut was his first in nine visits and not quite out of character. He finished 2013 strongly and is beginning to fire after a slow start to this year. Is this the week he brings his Ryder Cup stare to a major?

Justin Rose Yet to win an event following his first major victory at the US Open last year. Finished fifth here in 2007 and eighth two years ago. Clearly comfortable on the course having never missed the cut in eight visits. Perhaps the scent of the dogwoods and azaleas will trigger the fearsome consistency that led to his breakthrough win at Merion.

Jamie Donaldson Emerged unbeaten and Europe's joint-leading points scorer at last week's drawn Eurasia Cup. He leads the Race To Dubai and was runner-up at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. Became only the fifth player ever to ace the par-three sixth on Masters debut last year. Dark horse.

Life and Style
Social media users in Mexico who commented on cartel violence have been killed in the past
techTweets not showing up or loading this morning, users say
Sport
premier leagueLive: All the latest news and scores from today's matches
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
politics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker