Next week Matteo Manassero will become the youngest player to compete in the Masters. On Tuesday the 16-year-old from Italy showed why his ability, not his age, makes him worth watching.
Manassero, the reigning British Amateur champion, overpowered 18-year-old U.S. Amateur champion Byeong-Hun "Ben" An in the 13th annual Georgia Cup match at The Golf Club of Georgia in Alpharetta. Manassero won 5 and 4, ending the match with a four-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole of the Creekside course.
"I kept the ball in play today. That was the key," Manassero said. "That was the difference today."
Although he lost the first hole, Manassero was too accurate with his irons. He missed few greens and kept applying pressure with his efficiency. An hurt his own cause with a dreadful display of putting. He won only two of 14 holes.
"I couldn't get the distance right on the greens," An said. "Even on 18 [the players finished the round, even though the match was over], I still couldn't get it right."
It might not have mattered. Manassero, the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, was on top of his game. That was evident at the second hole, when his second shot flew the green and landed in an area that makes club members cringe. Somehow he was able to get up and down for par.
"I want to ask him how it did that, too," An said.
Manassero was 3-up after five holes and 5-up after eight. The 5-and-4 win was the most lopsided decision since 2001, when Mikko Ilonen beat Jeff Quinney 6 and 4. It ended a three-year winning streak for the U.S. Amateur champion.
"It's a great achievement for me," Manassero said. "I just came here to enjoy the experience and prepare for Augusta National, but I played really well."
Both teenagers now head to the Masters, although An plans to stay around The Golf Club of Georgia for a couple of more days to practice on the greens, which offer Augusta-like speed. They will then immerse themselves in the complete Masters experience: They'll stay in the club's Crow's Nest, play practice rounds with some veterans, participate in the Par 3 Contest, and tee it up with many guys more than twice their age.
"I have no expectations, no goals," said Manassero, who became the first Italian to win the British Amateur. "The best thing would be to make the cut and enjoy the experience."