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.

Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
musicKate Bush asks fans not to take photos at London gigs
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
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

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment