LONDON (Reuters) - Italy’s young golden boy Matteo Manassero put the smile back on the face of international golf when he ended a troubled week for the game by producing a record-breaking victory in the PGA Championship at Wentworth.
The 20-year-old not only became the youngest winner of the European Tour’s flagship event on Sunday, he also helped to wipe away the frowns from a sport that had gone through a turbulent few days following a race row involving Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods.
Manassero’s triumph at the fourth hole of a playoff with Britain’s Simon Khan gave further proof that he is destined to reach the top.
The PGA Championship’s roll of honour contains all the great names of European golf, including Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Tony Jacklin, Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie, and the youngster was overjoyed to join them on the list.
“I feel really proud and honoured to win the flagship event,” Manassero told reporters after picking up the fourth win of his fledgling career.
”The two names that stand out on the trophy for me are Seve and Costantino Rocca. Costantino was the first Italian to win the PGA and Seve was always my idol.
“Adding my name on the trophy means a lot,” he said after climbing from 57th to 28th in the world rankings.
Manassero broke into a wide grin when he was told about a congratulatory message from 24-year-old world number two Rory McIlroy who said on his Twitter account, ‘You are making me feel old’ before adding a ‘phenom’ hash tag.
“I‘m happy he wrote that...I’ve got so much respect for Rory,” said the Italian.
“I think he’s got the best game and is the most talented player out here. He’s achieved so much and I‘m happy he tweeted something like that.”
Manassero made a breathtaking start to his professional career, landing the 2010 Castello Masters title in Spain to become the European Tour’s youngest champion at the age of 17.
He set another record last year when his victory at the Singapore Open meant he became the first teenager to win three events on the circuit.
While Manassero’s ability was never in doubt, some question marks were raised about his lack of driving length in an age when power is all-important.
He took steps to remedy the situation and the fruits of his labour were evident when he launched a 300-yard drive in Sunday’s playoff.
”I feel my work has paid off,“ said Manassero. ”I lost some weight in the off-season and everybody asked me, ‘Have you been sick or have you done that on purpose?'.
“I’ve already added some distance with the driver and I knew I needed to add some yardage to be able to compete in certain events.”
Manassero said he went on a five-week diet in the close season and also upped his cardiovascular work in the gym.
”After the cardio training I had to do work to build up my muscles,“ he explained. ”Obviously when you slim down you slim down a bit of everything and so I tried to put some muscles back on again.
“Now it seems to have stabilised really well. I feel much better now physically - it was work that had to be done and I‘m happy I’ve done it.”
Editing by Patrick Johnston