Bright young thing Manassero eclipses leading lights at Wentworth
Twenty-year-old Italian comes out on top in three-way play-off, as Lowry fails to challgenge on final day
Italy’s Matteo Manassero celebrates victory after the fourth play-off hole during the final round of the BMW PGA Championship on the West Course at Wentworth yesterday. Photograph: Getty Images
The giant billboards lining the London Road on the way in to Wentworth hailed Europe’s Ryder Cup heroes, with a celebratory photograph of the team and a heading proclaiming “Luke Who’s Back”.
By Friday evening, double champion Luke Donald had departed the BMW PGA Championship at its midpoint and today another of those faces dominating the roadside - Lee Westwood - flattered only to deceive when lumbered with favouritism.
Instead, on a beautifully sunny day which brought record crowds to the West Course for the latest edition of the tour’s flagship tournament, it was a face which is set to make an impact in future Ryder Cups and majors who emerged as the new poster boy of European golf. Italian Matteo Manassero, at 20 years and 37 days, became the youngest ever winner of the old championship.
He did it in style, too.
Manassero, Simon Khan, the champion in 2010, and Marc Warren all finished on 278, 10-under, and went into the first three-way play-off in the BMW PGA since 1976.
Warren didn’t last long. The Scot’s drive on the first play-off hole - the 18th - was unplayable in heavy rough behind trees down the right and, after returning to the tee to hit another drive, his third, he then went for an aggressive play and put his fourth shot into the hazard guarding the green.
Warren’s play-off involvement may have been brief albeit eventful, but the other two combatants became engaged in a right old battle. On and on it went. After extending their interests by halving the hole in birdie fours and then halving it again at the second time of asking with pars, they again returned to halve it again in birdies before the breakthrough came at the fourth time of asking.
Khan’s approach plunged into the hazard, whilst Manassero’s measured five-wood approach found the heart of the green. End game! Manassero - with veteran caddie Dave McNeilly on the bag - duly two-putted for a winning birdie as Khan was reduced to the role of an onlooker.
The victory, the fourth of his blossoming career, moved the Italian from 57th in the world rankings into the top-30 and secured him invites to next month’s US Open and the British Open in July.
For Shane Lowry, it was a case of what might have been. So close, and yet so far, as a finishing 72 for 282, six-under-par, left him tied-12th.
The 26-year-old Offalyman’s had warmed up on the range with a great deal of expectations only to find the spark missing when he ventured onto the course. Still, he held it together admirably, a bogey and a birdie along with seven pars leaving him talking to his caddie Dermot Byrne on the 10th tee with a belief that he could still do the job.
The Par five-17th, though, proved to his nemesis: there, Lowry pull-hooked his drive out-of-bounds in running up an ugly double bogey seven that was like a kick in the stomach. “That’s what’s so disappointing. I grinded all day, all day, to get myself in a decent position; then, one bad tee shot. I mean, you’ve got the whole of the UK to the right. And (left) is the only place you can’t hit it on that hole,” said Lowry, who had birdied the 12th and 13th to move in the right direction, before a bogey on the 14th was compounded by the double on the penultimate hole.
To his credit, he managed to get up and down from a greenside bunker to birdie the 18th. But Lowry knew, more than anyone, it was an opportunity missed. “When we stood on the 10th, we knew we had a chance of winning the PGA if we put in a good back nine. I suppose that’s the only thing we can do, (is learn from it). Then it’s a case of trying to finish it off.”
There will be other days, and Lowry is straight back into action at Walton Heath in tomorrow’s 36-hole international qualifying for the US Open before flying out tomorrow night for this week’s Memorial tournament in Ohio where he is playing on an invite from host Jack Nicklaus.
Westwood’s demise was perhaps more shattering, given that he opened up a two-shot lead after a hat-trick of birdies from the second. But his swing deserted him. A bogey at the sixth, where he overhit his approach, led to him not trusting his swing and he came home in 40 en route to a closing 73 for 281, three shots outside a place in the play-off. “If you’re under pressure and you want to fall back on good technique and you haven’t got it, you pay the price,” admitted Westwood afterwards.