Sunday 26 February 2017

Young gun outshines old masters

Bernie McGuire , in Turin

While the light shows no signs of going out on Darren Clarke's illustrious career, Matteo Manassero's star shone bright alongside the Tyrone veteran on the opening day of the BMW Italian Open yesterday.

Manassero (18), who still has a full 12 months of schooling ahead of him, recorded an impressive six-under-par 66 to be just two shots off the lead on a rain-sodden Royal Park course in Turin.

The English pair of Robert Rock and Chris Wood lead the field at eight-under, with a lift-clean-and-place ruling in operation.

Rock, who lost a play-off to Shane Lowry in the 2009 Irish Open, birdied his last five holes in a 64 while playing partner Wood, who let slip victory to Clarke last month in Majorca, ended eagle, birdie. Rock and Wood's better-ball score was 59.

Three players -- Scotland's in-form Scott Jamieson, Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen -- are next best at seven-under.

Manassero began his round birdie, eagle, birdie on his way to outscoring Clarke (71) by five strokes -- Colin Montgomerie (75), the third member of the group, was nine adrift of the Italian after another miserable day for the 2010 Ryder Cup captain.

Two weeks ago Clarke was also in Manassero's company for the opening two rounds of the BMW PGA Championship. That was the 20th anniversary of Clarke's first appearance in the flagship event and a fortnight after Portrush's newest resident had claimed the Iberdrola Open in Majorca.

However, Manassero outplayed his 42-year-old opponent by seven strokes at Wentworth before eventually finishing in a share of seventh, with Clarke down in a tie for 47th.

A year earlier, Wentworth organisers grouped Clarke with the young Italian and the scenario was similar, with Manassero finishing in a tie for 17th and Clarke missing the halfway cut.

Manassero helped draw a record crowd to the Turin course and Clarke graciously led the praise for him.

"Matteo's a great player and he's only going to get better and better and better," said Clarke.

"More importantly, he's a really, really nice young man. He says his pleases and thank yous, and has a very polite manner. He's just a great young kid."

Clarke was then asked what it felt like standing on the tee, being aged over 40, up against an inexperienced player more than half his age.

"I feel nothing because I am still doing my job and he's just starting out doing his job," said Clarke.

But there was a follow-up question from the same reporter, who asked Clarke if he would like to join Manassero in starting out on his professional career.

Clarke's response brought a roar of laughter from all those listening on.

"I don't think I could drink that much again!" he said.

Manassero, with Coleraine caddie Ryan McGuigan on the bag, repaid the compliment.

"I am becoming quite close to Darren and today he was asking me about what I was doing," said Manassero. "And it was good to talk to him about how he's been in these situations, and how I am hopefully going to be in many more.

"He did warn me that situations can sometimes turn around, so it was good to discuss that with him."

Damien McGrane ended the day tied with Clarke on one-under, while Paul McGinley continues to struggle to be well down the board to join Monty on three-over-par.

Newcastle's Simon Thornton, competing in only his third European Tour event this year, recorded a two-over 73.

BMW Italian Open,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 10.30

Irish Independent

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