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16-year-old Italian Star ends 2009 at No. 1

Here's an easy golf prediction for 2010. If you haven't yet heard of Italian golf sensation Matteo Manassero, you soon will.

The 16-year-old Italian national golf team standout, who vaulted to the top of the Golfweek/amateurgolf.com World Rankings with a win at the British Amateur and T13 at the British Open -- plans to play the Masters as an amateur in April. He will be the youngest-ever contestant in that tournament, just as he was the youngest-ever (and first Italian) winner of the British Amateur.

Manassero, who friends call "Manny" (after an Italian cartoon character) has been on the kind of ride that can only lead one place.

Manassero told amateurgolf.com that his plans are to take advantage of the Masters invite that is customarily given to a British Amateur Champion (playing as an amateur), then turn pro and take advantage of the seven allowed sponsor's exemptions on the European Tour.

"I really want to live the pro life," he said in a phone interview from his home in the Northeastern Italian city of Verona, less than two hours from Milan.

His parents are supportive of the decision, as they have been since he started golf at age four and through his whirlwind last three years, starting at age fourteen when he was selected for the Italian National Golf Team. It was there that Manassero began working with coach Alberto Binaghi, a veteran of at least eight European Tour school qualifiers over a twenty year playing career.

"My parents used to leave me alone - they didn't want to press me and they helped let my golf game grow," explained Manassero.

Manassero's breakthrough victory came at the 2007 European Internationals, where he won the 16-and-under division. In addition to winning the British Amateur, his 2009 season saw strong performances at the European Amateur (T7) and the St. Andrews Links Trophy (T11) as well as two European Tour top-25s, at the Italian Open and Omega European Masters.

But being paired with Tom Watson in the first two rounds of the British Open, watching first hand as a player 43 years his senior picked his spots at Turnberry, was about as good as it gets for a young player who knows the history of the game. The highlight? Shared high-fives when Watson holed a 40-foot putt and Manassero followed suit.

Now back to that prediction.

At age sixteen, Manassero will create some buzz at the Masters, and the pundits will compare him to Michelle Wie. My money is on Manassero to earn his keep on the European Tour. A young Sergio Garcia, or even Justin Rose comes to mind. Even a string of missed European Tour cuts (particularly in Rose's case) did nothing to dampen their spirits or long term career prospects.

NOTE: To view final results from the Junior Orange Bowl Invitational in Florida, click on the link below.

View results for Junior Orange Bowl International Golf Championship

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