Young guns get chance to shine by the Med

Tom Lewis: His 65 at Royal St George’s last summer was a record low by an amateur.

Two of the world’s most exciting young golfers, Matteo Manassero and Tom Lewis, command centre stage at this week’s Sicilian Open — with Irishmen by their sides.

The spectacular new European Tour venue, the Verdura Golf and Spa resort on the west coast of the island, hosts the event and players heaped praise on the course which nestles on the edge of the Mediterranean.

Manassero became the youngest ever British Amateur champion in 2009 when he also led the amateur game’s world rankings. After being crowned top amateur at the 2010 Masters, he turned professional and victory in the Castellon Masters later that year made him the youngest European Tour winner in history at 17 years, 188 days.

He competes this week claiming to be unfazed at failing to capitalise on winning positions in both of his last two tournaments, the Andalucian Open and the Hassan II Trophy in Morocco. Victory in either would have secured a start in Augusta but he has now turned his sights on success in his native country.

“Of course I am disappointed to miss the Masters but a big consolation would be to win this week in front of my home fans,” said the native of Verona, who turns 19 next month. “At my age, I know there will be many other occasions to play the Masters.”

Dave McNeilly, the vastly experienced Belfast native who has worked for many of the game’s finest golfers, including Nick Faldo and Pádraig Harrington, is on the Italian’s bag. And the pair are already planning for the Irish Open at Royal Portrush, a links McNeilly knows well.

“I’ve only once played in Ireland and that was in Killarney so I’m looking forward to playing an Irish links for the first time,” said Manassero.

The Italian’s young rival Lewis led the British Open as a 20-year-old at Royal St George’s last July after shooting a 65 in the first round, the lowest score by an amateur recorded in the event. He went on to capture the Portugal Masters in only his third professional start last October.

But he has failed to set the golfing world alight in the interim.

Could such results be a case of ‘second season syndrome’? Lewis, with Ireland’s Colin Byrne as his caddie, scoffs at such a notion.

Lewis said: “This year, there’s a lot more attention on me. It’s a bit of a shock having come from the Conference straight into the Premier League.

“I’ve got a very good management team [led by Adrian Mitchell, the man behind Harrington throughout his time on the books of IMG] and hopefully the more I mature, the better I will be able to cope with the demands of a professional golfer.”

Paul McGinley is one of six Irishmen in the field, still furious at himself for attempting to play both the Tavistock Cup in Florida and the Hassan II Trophy in Morocco in the space of six successive days last week.

He withdrew from the latter after round one admitting that “my legs were like jelly from jet lag, it was a real rookie thing for me to do”.

The remaining Irish in Sicily are Shane Lowry, Peter Lawrie, Gareth Maybin, Simon Thornton and Gary Murphy, with the US providing two Major champions in John Daly and Rich Beem.


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