Friday 24 November 2017

Magical Manassero comes up trumps in dramatic play-off

Italy's Matteo Manassero
Italy's Matteo Manassero

GIFTED young Italian Matteo Manassero brought a tempestuous week in the history of the BMW PGA Championship to a remarkable conclusion with victory in the longest sudden-death play-off witnessed here.

Rory McIlroy captured the mood in the wake of Manassero's momentous win in a tweet sent, presumably, from Paris: "Massive congrats, Matteo. Makes me feel like an old man! #phenom."

Manassero, at 20 years and 37 days, is the youngest champion of Europe's mid-season showpiece.

"I'm happy he wrote that tweet," said Manassero. "I suppose he is getting on a bit at 24. For some time I have regarded Rory as the best and most talented player out here."

The Italian saw off 2010 PGA champion Simon Khan of England with a birdie on the fourth extra trip up 18 on the West Course, after they had tied on 10-under with Marc Warran of Scotland.


Warren was eliminated on the first tie hole when he hit his three-wood tee-shot into an unplayable lie in deep undergrowth, and then knocked his fourth into the burn in front of the green.

Controversy bubbled and boiled over all seven days at Wentworth.

At the outset, McIlroy's perplexing intention to walk away from Dublin management firm Horizon Sports commanded attention.

Then Sergio Garcia fired his astonishing remarks at Tiger Woods during the European Tour's annual awards banquet last Tuesday. His apologies were accepted by the heads of the European and US PGA Tours.

In an attempt to justify the decision not to take action against the Spaniard, European chief executive George O'Grady came under fire on Thursday for saying many of Garcia's friends are "coloured." He later issued an apology.

Then McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, two-time champion Luke Donald and home favourite Ian Poulter figured large among those who missed Friday's cut after the first 36 holes were played in arctic weather conditions.

In another shock, Lee Westwood, hotly fancied after going into the final round just one shy of the lead, slumped to an abject 73.

Much has been said about the advances in Westwood's short game following his move to the US last winter, but his performance bore the nervous hallmarks of previous failures on the brink of glory in great events.

The gloriously gifted Manassero set himself up for the greatest of his four European Tour titles (and a €791,660 winner's cheque) with a final round 69, including holing out from a greenside bunker at nine to complete a brace of birdies to join the lead.

Khan was already ensconced in the clubhouse after setting the target with a glittering 66, which matched his final-round score from three years ago when he came from seven back to win.

In the play-off, Warren, whose 69 included a pitch-in from the fairway at 13 for a remarkable fourth birdie on the trot, was first to crack, while Khan's hopes expired when he knocked his approach into the water on the fourth tie hole.

Shane Lowry was crushed by a double-bogey seven at 17, which was a stinging slap in the face for the Clara man after a week in which he'd illuminated the West Course with some truly spectacular shot-making.

Lowry pull-hooked his tee-shot left and out of bounds at the penultimate hole and, despite making a birdie four at the last for a level par 72, was "very disappointed" at the finish.

"One bad tee-shot cost me a good few spots on the leaderboard," said the 26-year-old. In fact, it dropped him from a share of sixth into a tie for 12th on six-under, slicing in half Lowry's earnings for an impressive week's work to €70,435.

When he holed a short putt for his first birdie of the day at nine, then landed a couple more at 12 and 13, Lowry was just two shy of the tournament lead.

"Yeah, I got it to eight-under and those last five holes actually were playing easy enough. Yet I just played them very poorly," he said.

"I didn't play well on the front nine, but made a few great saves which kept me in it and that's why it's so disappointing. I was grinding all day to get myself in a decent position, then I hit one bad tee-shot."

Lowry goes to Walton Heath today with high hopes of picking up one of 10 places on offer in a 36-hole US Open qualifier. Tonight, he flies to Dublin, Ohio, after being invited by tournament host Jack Nicklaus to this week's Memorial.

Irish Independent

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