Seventeen-year-old Matteo Manassero gave Italian golf yet another boost today by setting the early clubhouse target at the Omega European Masters in Switzerland.
With brothers Edoardo and Francesco Molinari now on countdown to the Ryder Cup, Manassero underlined his rich promise with a sparkling seven-under-par 64.
Playing his 13th European Tour event, but only his sixth as a professional, the Verona teenager led English duo Steve Webster and Robert Coles and Thailand’s Chapchai Nirat by two.
In the group three ahead, meanwhile, were Darren Clarke and Miguel Angel Jimenez.
A brilliant 13th in last year’s Open soon after he had become the youngest ever British amateur champion, Manassero joined the paid ranks after finishing 36th at The Masters in April.
That entitled him to seven invitations to try to earn enough – over €240,000 - to avoid this November’s qualifying school.
This is the sixth of those seven and while he has done well to make the cut in all the previous five and is over halfway towards his target, he probably needs a top-five finish either now or at the Dunhill Links championship next month.
Manassero did not drop a stroke all day and after turning in 33 added further birdies on the first, third, sixth, seventh and ninth.
That front-nine 31 was not the best of the day, though. Swede Mikael Lundberg did it in 30 and a hole-in-one at the third earned him a bar of gold valued at €24,000, but he then came home in only 39.
Clarke, one of Colin Montgomerie’s assistants at Celtic Manor on October 1-3, finished with a 30-foot birdie putt, while Jimenez, looking forward to his fourth cap against the Americans, had six birdies and two bogeys as he began his 22nd successive attempt to win the title at Crans-sur-Sierre.
Cup team-mate Edoardo Molinari, whose win at Gleneagles on Sunday was the final proof Montgomerie needed to hand him a wild card, was among the later starters.
He was playing with 55-year-old Australian Greg Norman, finally returning to action almost a year after shoulder surgery.