Posted on: March 25, 2011 6:50 pm

Masters hopefuls head opposite directions

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The last-gasp chances of two Masters hopefuls headed in decidedly opposite directions this week when Italy's Matteo Manassero missed the cut and American J.B. Holmes improved his standing to keep his hopes alive.

Manassero, attempting to become the first player to tee it up at the Masters two times before turning 18, struggled for the second day in a row at the Bay Hill Invitational and shot 3-over 75, missing the cut by a stroke.

This one might sting -- he played his last five holes in 2 over. A day earlier, he was playing nicely in high winds in the afternoon, but double-bogeyed the 18th hole.

Holmes, ranked No. 59 in the world, needs to move inside the top 50 by Sunday night to secure his second Masters berth. He shot a 3-under 69 and moved into a tie for 17th. Though it's been hard to estimate specifically where Holmes must finish because of the many moving parts involved with the fate of other players around him in the rankings, he more than likely needs a top-7 finish to have any chance.

At the halfway point, Holmes is seven strokes behind leader Martin Laird, but only four strokes out of a tie for fourth.

Posted on: March 24, 2011 7:19 pm

Masters hopefuls dig early holes at Bay Hill

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The two players searching for last-minute invitations to the Masters have some heavy lifting ahead.

Matteo Manassero and J.B. Holmes, who entered the week ranked No. 55 and 59 in the world rankings, must crack the top 50 when the rankings are recalculated after play in the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational concludes on Sunday.

Holmes shot a 1-over 73 and is tied for 31st, while the 17-year-old Manassero double-bogeyed the 18th hole to shoot 74, which left him at T31. Manassero is seeking to become the first player to twice play in the Masters before turning 18, tournament officials said. He made the cut last year at age 16 and finished T30.

Despite what is being reported on the air, those who administer the world ranking in London said the minimum finish required of both players is almost impossible to determine because there are so many variables in play.

Thursday, the OWGR numbers-crunchers said Manassero could crack the top 50 by finishing between 13th and 24th this week, while Holmes can finish between fifth and seventh and have a chance. There are so many players ranked just ahead or behind them playing at Bay Hill this week that plotting the permutations is difficult.

It can't be a whole lot of fun for the duo to look at some of the results Thursday from other players stationed ahead of them in the rankings from lesser tours, like Japan's Yuta Ikeda, the 48th-ranked player in the world. Ikeda shot 84 with an 11 on the sixth hole and in five PGA Tour starts this year has finished T62, lost in the first round of Match Play, missed the cut at the Honda Classic, finished T55 at Doral, and is virtually assured of missing the cut at Bay Hill. 
Category: Golf
Posted on: March 18, 2011 3:16 pm
Edited on: March 18, 2011 3:54 pm

Masters bid a Manny-splendored thing

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- It has almost passed without notice over the past three days.

Sure, it's terrific that rising Italian star Matteo Manassero, the youngest player ever to win a European Tour event, is in the field at the Transitions Championship. He's been interviewed a gazillion times already by American media who are quick to jump on fresh stories and flavors.

Left largely unsaid is why he's here in the first place.

Manassero, who answers to Manny, is playing in Tampa and at Bay Hill next week on sponsor exemptions in the hope that he can move up five slim spots in the world ranking by Sunday night at next week's Arnold Palmer Invitational.

That would jump him from 55th to 50 in the world and secure a last-ditch spot in the Masters, where he made his debut last year as a 16-year-old amateur. Manassero figures that a top-10 finish this week might do the trick since the field is pretty stout in ranking strength, partly due to the presence of world Nos. 1 and 7, Martin Kaymer and Paul Casey.

An Augusta National official confirmed Friday that Manassero is courting tournament history: No player has ever made two Masters appearances at 17 or younger. Not even Tiger Woods.

With play continuing in Friday's second round, Manassero had jumped to T8 at 6 under over two rounds, so if his math projections are sound, he's looking pretty good. Of course, he would then have to remain in the top 50 through next week, when others will be attempting 11th-hour rallies, too.

"It is pretty much the key as to why I am here," Manassero said after his second straight 68 on Friday. "It's a great event and it would be fantastic to get back."
Category: Golf
Posted on: February 24, 2011 5:02 pm

Manny being Manny -- winning at age 17

MARANA, Ariz. -- Matteo Manassero freely admits that when he arrived in the Sonoran Desert this week, he didn't have a lot on his occupational to-do list.

Pretty easy to understand why. He'd never before played in the Accenture Match Play Championship, never set foot on the golf course, and felt a little awed to some degree about his opponents this week -- the top 63 players in the world.

Oh, not to mention that he's all of 17 years old.

"My expectations were none, actually," he laughed.

Well, then, he's clearly exceeded them, hasn't he.

The youngest ever to play in the event, the kid they call Manny knocked off Charl Schwartzel in the second round and won 1 up, making the round of 16. Which is approximately his age.

A native of Italy, Manaserro was asked who he idolized as a kid. When was that, like, yesterday?

He mentioned his idol, Seve Ballesteros, as well as Tiger Woods. The latter, hardly a geezer, turned pro when Manassero was 1. Between guys like Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and Manny -- who all made the Sweet 16 in their first tournament appearance -- it's looking like Romper Room out here.

Manassero held a 2-up lead with four holes to play, then hit some loose shots, including one on the 16th that caromed off the greenside grandstands and into the top of a cactus. Knowing he was going to require a penalty drop, he conceded the hole. He had never hit a ball out of a cactus before and wasn't going to start learning now.

"We don't have any in Europe," he laughed.

He reclaimed the lead when he staked a perfect 7-iron to four feet for an easy birdie on the 17th and won with a par on the last.

Manassero, who became the youngest ever to win a Ruropean Tour event last year at age 17, entered the week at No. 59 in the world rankings. He was hoping to perhaps win a match and move into the top 50, which would secure a spot in the World Golf Championships event at Doral in two weeks.

Maybe we should start talking about winning.
Category: Golf
Posted on: February 23, 2011 5:06 pm

Teen bids arrivederci to world No. 8 Stricker

MARANA, Ariz. -- Can a 17-year-old with about a year of professional experience win an event featuring the top 64 players in the world?

Darned likely not.

But after what happened at the Daytona 500 on Sunday, when a 20-year-old unknown won, nobody is about to dismiss the possibility that Italy's Matteo Manassero could steal this sucker at the finish line. Especially not after what took place Wednesday.

The youngest player ever to tee it up at the Accenture Match Play Championship dispatched world No. 8 Steve Stricker in the first round, 2 and 1, and turned even more heads with his astounding poise and maturity.

Stricker celebrated is 44th birthday on Wednesday -- OK, so celebrated might not be the right word -- and got a glimpse of the future of the game. Manassero, who last year became the youngest player ever to win on the European Tour, said he was surprised he won, but his body language was exuding a bit more confidence.

When he ran across Rory McIlroy, a relative graybeard at age 21, Manassero actually winked at the North Irishman from the interview stand. McIlroy noted that, earlier in the day on the range, he was warming up alongside Manassero and Ryo Ishikawa of Japan, who is all of 19. Stricker was there, too, wrecking the average age by a wide margin.

McIlroy, who played a practice round with Manassero this week, was at least as happy that the Italian won his match as he was to advance to the second round himself. Two years ago, McIlroy made his U.S. debut in this event and has since become a fixture in the world top 10.

"Yeah, everything is experience, you know?" McIlroy said. "It's a great experience for him. It's all these little things are -- he's still learning and they're put into the memory bank and it can only serve him well in the future and that's why all the experience that I've had, good and bad, they should serve you well in the future. 

"And to get all these experiences so young. By the time Matteo and myself, 24, 25, you know, we'll have tons of experience that we can use and hopefully use it to our advantage."

Why wait? Manny, as he is known, is already characterizing the week as a huge success, for good reason.

"It's already a big achievement for me," said Manassero, in flawless English. "I'm not expecting that much out of match play, because I'm not used to playing match play against such big players. So this is already very good for me, and we'll see what happens next round. But here everybody is very good."

Posted on: February 15, 2011 12:23 pm
Edited on: February 15, 2011 1:29 pm

Transitions sees stars: Loading up on Euros

For the director of a PGA Tour event, the general plan when doling out sponsor exemptions is to allocate them to players who bring generate noise from a marketing and fan context.

It's hard to envision how the Transitions Championship in Tampa could have done much better, for a variety of reasons.

The tournament announced Tuesday that exemptions have been issued to three of the most exciting players on the European Tour, each of whom brings a different wrinkle.

World No. 2 Martin Kaymer of Germany, generally considered the hottest player on the planet over the past 13 months, teenage sensation Matteo Manassero of Italy and last week's winner in Dubai, power player Alvaro Quiros of Spain, all have committed to play at Innisbrook Resort when the event begins March 17.
Kaymer, making his debut at the event, will be the highest-ranked player ever to enter the Tampa tournament if he holds his ranking until next month. Only 26, the reigning PGA Championship winner has five worldwide wins over the past 13 months and played on the winning Ryder Cup team.

Manassero makes Kaymer look like an old man. Still 17, last year he became the youngest player ever to win a European Tour event and he's currently ranked No. 57 in the world. Japan's Ryo Ishikawa, 20, earlier was awarded an exemption, giving the event the two top-ranked players on the planet age 20 or younger. Ishikawa is ranked No. 40.

Quiros, whose charisma is surpassed only by his ability to hit balls into the next county, won last week in Dubai, climbed to a career-best 21st in the world with his fifth European win.

Both Quiros and Manassero are playing on sponsor’s exemptions. Kaymer and Ishikawa are playing on a commissioner's foreign exemption.

The Tampa field is expected to include three players from the world top 10 in Kaymer, Steve Stricker and defending champion Jim Furyk.

Category: Golf
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