Matteo Manassero fighting for Tour survival at Valderrama Masters

Italy’s Matteo Manassero is ready to face the consequences of a poor season as he tries to save his European Tour card in the Andalucia Valderrama Masters.

Matteo Manassero fighting for Tour survival at Valderrama Masters

By Phil Casey

Italy’s Matteo Manassero is ready to face the consequences of a poor season as he tries to save his European Tour card in the Andalucia Valderrama Masters.

Manassero was the youngest winner in European Tour history when he claimed the Castello Masters in 2010 aged 17 years and 188 days and added further titles in each of the next three seasons.

The last of those came in the BMW PGA Championship in 2013 and helped Manassero reach a career-high of 25th in the world, but the five-year exemption for that victory runs out on Sunday, after which only the top 110 players on the Race to Dubai will earn full playing privileges for next season.

Manassero is currently ranked 118th after failing to record a single top-10 finish in 25 events this season, although a tie for 22nd in last week’s British Masters at least offers grounds for optimism.

“I need a good week but really I try not to change the idea of going out and playing as good as I can,” said Manassero, who was just 16 in becoming the youngest winner of the Amateur Championship in 2009 and finished 13th in the Open at Turnberry a month later.

“I’m not going to play for 28th or 31st, I’m going to try and play as good as I can and whatever comes we’ll take the consequences. In golf it’s always like this.

“Obviously I didn’t have such a great season but I’m still here with a chance. That’s thanks to the British Masters and hopefully I can play well and forget a little bit 2018. I’m happy anyway and I’ll try to have a good week, that’s all.”

Defending champion Sergio Garcia is a strong favourite to win the tournament for the third time on his first start since becoming the top points scorer in Ryder Cup history in Europe’s victory at Le Golf National.

“It was great to beat the record,” said Garcia, who won three of his four matches in Paris to surpass Nick Faldo with 25-and-a-half points from his nine appearances in the biennial contest.

“Not only because I’m on top of some amazing players — some of my idols — but because it means that I was able to help the European team for a long time and that’s what makes me proud. To help the team win as many times as we have lately, it’s always an honour.”

Despite a top-10 finish in his last strokeplay event in Portugal, Garcia has fallen outside the world’s top 30 for the first time since October 2011, although coincidentally he then won the Andalucia Masters for the first time before it dropped off the schedule for five years.

Meanwhile reigning US Open and US PGA champion Brooks Koepka will take to the beach to figure out how to improve on the best season of his career.

Koepka was voted PGA Tour player of the year after returning from four months out with a wrist injury to win two major titles in 2018, the 28-year-old becoming the first player in 29 years to win back-to-back US Open titles at Shinnecock Hills in June.

The world No.3 held off Tiger Woods to win the US PGA in August, joining Woods, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win the US Open and US PGA in the same season.

And although he is technically starting his 2019 season in 2018 at this week’s CJ Cup in Korea, Koepka will wait until the new year before assessing how he can get better.

“I set the goals on a calendar year so I think I’ll go out January 1, go to the beach and write down a few goals,” Koepka said. “I’ll reset them come the end of the calendar year.”

Koepka’s Ryder Cup team-mate Justin Thomas is defending champion in the €8.2m event on Jeju Island, with four members of Europe’s victorious side at Le Golf National - Alex Noren, Paul Casey, Tyrrell Hatton and Ian Poulter - also part of the 78-man field.

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