Saturday 20 January 2018

Manassero's red-hot form putting Rory in the shade

Matteo Manassero of Italy tees off on the second hole during the second round of the Nordea Masters golf tournament
Matteo Manassero of Italy tees off on the second hole during the second round of the Nordea Masters golf tournament

William S Callahan

MOVE over Rory McIlroy... Matteo Manassero is this week laying strong claim to the Holywood native's title as European and world golf's hottest young talent.

Carrying on from last Sunday's historic sudden-death victory at the BMW PGA Championship in Wentworth, Manassero, just 20, has been making golf look ludicrously easy at the Nordea Masters as he bids for his second Tour win in seven days and fifth in all as a professional.

The Italian's domination at Bro Hoff Slott, just outside Stockholm, is reminiscent of McIlroy's irresistible surge through the final four months of last season following his record-breaking second win at the Majors in the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.

The Holywood native's form and confidence has ebbed remarkably in 2013. The grim battle he faced to make the 36-hole cut at this week's Memorial Tournament after Thursday's frightful 78 was all too typical of a fraught year for the 24-year-old Northern Irishman.

In fairness, McIlroy scrapped hard over the first 11 holes of yesterday's weather-blighted second round. He managed four birdies and dropped just one shot (out of a greenside bunker at eight) to creep just inside the projected cut on three-over when electrical storms forced play to a halt for a second time.

Manassero isn't blessed with the Ulsterman's explosive power and therefore is unlikely ever to blow away the opposition at a Major championship in the same spectacular fashion as McIlroy did at the 2011 US Open in Congressional and again at Kiawah.

Yet whatever Manassero lacks in yards is amply compensated by his accuracy, while few, including McIlroy, can match his surgical precision from 100 yards in. More significantly, the Italian is a markedly better, more consistent putter than Ireland's World No 2.

The nerveless way in which Manassero became the youngest ever winner of the BMW PGA over four holes of sudden death at Wentworth (where McIlroy missed the cut) bore the promise of many intriguing clashes between these two in years to come.

After opening his campaign at the Nordea Masters with six straight birdies on the back nine, Manassero shared the first-round lead on six-under. He landed another five birdies on that homeward nine as he waltzed to a second-round 65 in idyllic scoring conditions, leaving Manassero two clear of Mikko Ilonen on 13-under going into the weekend.

On a day of spectacular scoring in Sweden, Australian Andrew Dodt became the first player on the European Tour to make two holes-in-one in the same round when he aced the 175-yard 11th hole, his second yesterday, and repeated the trick at the 208-yard seventh.

Incredibly, Dodt (27) who registered his only Tour victory at the 2010 Avantha Masters in India, needed to make birdie at his final hole for a 65 to sneak through the cut on two-under.

PROUD

"The shot at the 11th, my second, kick-started things," said Dodt, who was given a case of champagne by the tournament sponsors. "I'm pretty proud to be the first one to do it. I'd seven holes-in-one before today."

Just two Irish players made it to the weekend in Sweden. Kells man Damien McGrane, eighth here three years ago, posted a career-best 67 to share 27th on four-under. Rookie pro Alan Dunbar (23) from Portrush, ensured he'd play all four rounds in his first full European Tour event with a sweet 69 that left him tied 43rd on three-under.

Agonisingly, Peter Lawrie missed out by one on one-under after a second-round 67 that featured a stretch of seven birdies in his final eight holes, punctuated only by a treble-bogey six at 16.

Across the Atlantic, defending champion Tiger Woods wallowed 10 shots behind early clubhouse leader Bill Haas on one-over after yesterday's slipshod 74 at Memorial.

Interestingly, he shot the same second-round score in 2009 and went on to claim the fourth of his five wins at Memorial.

Shane Lowry missed the cut by a mile on 12-over after back-to-back rounds of 78. Still, the Clara man, who has accepted a sponsor's invite to next week's FedEx St Jude Classic in Memphis, was three better than Nick Watney.

Muirfield Village played hard and fast with many big reputations on the opening two days of this tournament, making the rounds of 68 and 67 posted by 2011 FedEx Cup-winner Haas appear all the more remarkable.

Nordea Masters, Day 3

Live, Sky Sports 4, 12.30

The Memorial Tournament, Day 3

Live, Sky Sports 1, 5.30

Irish Independent

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