Matteo Manassero was off to a good start today in his bid to grab a second trip to the Masters before his 19th birthday.
Birdies at three of his first seven holes put the young Italian star into the joint lead with Spaniard Eduardo de la Riva and France’s Benjamin Hebert in the Andalucian Open at Aloha near Marbella.
Manassero played at Augusta two years ago as the youngest-ever British amateur champion and finished a brilliant 36th.
He is now a two-time European Tour winner and a third victory could help him back into the world’s top 50 just in time to earn an invitation to the opening major of the season on April 5-8.
Robert Rock, conqueror of Tiger Woods in Abu Dhabi in January, has the same aim - he is currently 56th on the rankings and Manassero 63rd – and they were paired together in the opening two rounds of the first Tour event actually on European soil this year.
Rock was going well too, picking up strokes on the 12th and 16th after they began on the inward half.
Third member of the group was tournament host Miguel Angel Jimenez – he admits it is costing him money because of a struggle to find sponsors – and he was one under after seven, while Colin Montgomerie was level par.
The withdrawal of defending champion Paul Lawrie through illness meant there were no members of the game’s top 50 in the field.