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Matteo Manassero: Flying under the radar

June 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Golf was traditionally seen as an old man’s game, something to do once one can no longer cope with the exertions of more physically demanding sports. The success of a young Tiger Woods was seen as the exception and not the rule, but things are changing with the likes of Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and the USA’s Rickie Fowler bursting on to the scene in spectacular fashion and showing that young men can compete at the very highest level. Fowler won the PGA Rookie of the Year award for 2010, but it is for the Ulsterman that most praise has been reserved. This is of course justified, but one young man flying under the radar may just be the best of the crop.

At the age of 18, Matteo Manassero has already won as many tournaments as Rory McIlroy (two) and has broken a seemingly endless list of records. As an amateur, the Italian became the youngest ever winner of the Silver Medal at The Open and registered the best performance at The Masters by a European amateur in 73 years. Furthermore, at the age of just 16 years, 11 months and 22 days, Manassero became the youngest player in the history of The Masters to make the cut, breaking Bobby Cole’s 43 year old record.

The youngster has carried this form into the professional ranks. He registered his first European Tour tournament win on 24th October 2010 at the Castello Masters Costa Azahar, becoming the youngest ever winner on the tour in the process. This was followed by a strong showing at the 2010 UBS Hong Kong Open, where he finished second, one stroke behind Ian Poulter. His performances netted him the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year award for 2010 and the admiration of many fellow players. He did not however, rest on his laurels and in April this year, Manassero added a second tour victory when he impressively won the Maybach Malaysian Open. In fact, in his last six tour appearances, the Italian has posted four top 10 finishes. This rich vein of form has seen him rise to 30th in the world rankings and he is currently sitting 14th in the race to Dubai. Remarkable achievements for an 18 year old.

Manassero is undoubtedly a precocious talent, but he is certainly flying under the radar in comparison to other young prodigies past and present. As golfmagic.com’s Alex Perry puts it; ‘There weren’t enough calculators in the world to keep up with how many major wins the pair (Garcia and McIlroy) would have between them.’ So why has the young Italian not been afforded the same attention and hype? Part of the reason may lie in the fact that he is a young Italian. Golf is very much a marginal sport in the country with many estimates placing the number of club members at just 100,000. Consequently, the sports papers prefer to focus on more popular sports. This is in stark contrast to the British media, which have not been able to give Rory McIlroy enough coverage.

Manassero does not however dwell on a lack of coverage which borders on neglect, preferring instead to focus on his game. He goes about his business with ruthless efficiency and unwavering concentration. Whilst he is confident in his ability, he comes across as very humble. He has spoken of his own amazement at his meteoric rise and of the fact that he still has much to learn. He is not the finished article by any means, but demonstrates the maturity to take setbacks (such as that at Wentworth recently when he led going in to the final round before finishing eighth) as an opportunity to learn. Instead of beating himself up about it, he has focused on the positive of carding three very good scores. However, do not take this to mean that he will not work on improving his game.

Manassero is not a big hitter by modern standards but his strengths lie in his accuracy and a touch around the greens which is reminiscent of the great Seve Ballesteros. His game has won him many admirers, most notably Sir Nick Faldo who during The Masters tweeted ‘Schwartzel won but… da da daaa, Manassero wasn’t there. Discuss.’ This shows the high esteem in which he is held by those in the know.

For an 18 year old, Manassero takes everything in his stride. Italian journalist Massimo Lopes Pegna stated: ‘He looks like a kid and talks like an adult.’ This mix of maturity and God-given natural talent is a recipe for success so watch out, because the youngster from Verona may just be about to take the golfing world by storm.

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Categories: Golf

Who will win The Masters?

April 5, 2011 1 comment

This Thursday (7th April) sees the start of the 2011 Masters in Augusta, Georgia. Golf’s glamour event boasts a who’s who of golf in its winners list including Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer.

Sport Report wants to know who you think will be wearing the famous Green Jacket on Sunday evening.

Categories: Golf

Ryder Cup 2010: Monty’s Major

October 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Today (October 4th) at the Celtic Manor in Wales’s Usk Valley, Europe regained the Ryder Cup as the competition saw action on a Monday for the first time in its 83 year history. The win will mean a lot to golf fans throughout the continent; the 12 players and their families; but to no one will it mean more than it does to Colin Montgomerie.

Montgomerie is one of the finest golfers Europe has ever produced. The man affectionately known as ‘Monty’ has won the European Order of Merit a record eight times; has 31 European Tour Victories to his name (4th on the all-time list); holds a phenomenal Ryder Cup record of 23.5 points & never having lost a singles match and has reached a high ranking of two. The one thing missing from his vast collection of achievements however is a win in a so-called ‘Major.’ He has come mighty close, finishing runner-up at the US Open on three occasions; and once at The Open & USPGA respectively. With his best form seemingly behind him at the age of 47, Monty will most probably never win one now, but today, as captain of the European Ryder Cup Team, Monty finally won his Major.

Montgomerie is a man who commits fully to whatever he is doing and the prestigious Ryder Cup captaincy was no exception, as anybody who has watched him over the last four days will know. He has dashed around the golf course from match to match offering snippets of wisdom at crucial moments; marshalled his team of five carefully chosen vice captains and remained calm when others around him were starting to look a bit flustered. At the end of the first two completed sessions, Europe trailed 6-4 and there were some who surmised that the United States were going to retain their trophy comfortably. Colin Montgomerie had other ideas and worked his inspirational magic. In interviews for TV, both Ian Poulter and Martin Kaymer paid tribute to their captain’s optimistic and rousing speech, instilling them with the confidence to fight back. Whatever he said worked wonders as Europe stormed through the third session to take it 5½-½ and move in to a 9½-6½ lead going in to the singles matches.

Colin Montgomerie gives Padraig Harrington some advice during the 2010 Ryder Cup. (This image is the property of The Daily Telegraph)

Montgomery has pulled off several masterstrokes as captain, one being the selection of Luke Donald as a wildcard. Many questioned the wisdom of omitting world number seven Paul Casey, but Donald repaid Monty’s faith, winning his singles match against the $10 million man Jim Furyk at a point when the US team was threatening to overhaul the Europeans. Another wildcard pick, Edoardo Molinari, won what proved to be a crucial half point against Ricky Fowler to add to the one he won with brother Francesco against Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar in Sunday’s fourballs. The tried and trusted players such as Westwood; Jiminez and Poulter (who was sensational throughout the tournament) did not let Montgomerie down either, but it is the affable Scot’s singles order selection that deserves most praise.

Despite Europe taking a three point lead in to singles, Monty refused to rest on his laurels. The US front loaded in an attempt to gather momentum, placing Steve Stricker; Stewart Cink and Jim Furyk in their opening three spots. Neither Phil Mickelson nor Tiger Woods (who today played what was described by one BBC reporter as “golf from another world” for ten holes) were chosen as Team USA’s anchor, with Corey Pavin instead opting for Hunter Mahan. Montgomerie kept an ace up his sleeve and selected Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell as his number 12.

This was a stroke of genius from the captain. McDowell proved his mettle earlier this year by winning the US Open at Pebble Beach. He held on in difficult conditions at Pebble Beach to beat Frenchman Gregory Havret by one stroke and was the only player to finish par for the tournament. Montgomerie therefore placed his faith in McDowell to anchor the team and as it transpired, this decision proved crucial.

The US came storming out of the blocks on the final day with Stricker beating Westwood and Dustin Johnson crushing Martin Kaymer. Cink halved his match with the precocious Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald saw off the in-form Jim Furyk. The teams then traded blows as Jeff Overton beat Ross Fisher and Miguel Angel Jiminez defeated Bubba Watson. However, after Woods annihilated Francesco Molinari; Mickelson beat Hanson; Zach Johnson dispatched Padraig Harrington and Edoardo Molinari could only score a half point against Ricky Fowler, McDowell suddenly needed to win to get Europe to the magic 14½ point total. The Ulsterman kept his cool as Mahan duffed a chip shot at the 17th and rolled his putt to within around five feet of the cup. After Mahan missed his putt, he conceded and Europe had regained the Ryder Cup. Monty’s faith in ‘G-Mac’ had been vindicated.

As the 17th green was overrun by jubilant players and over-zealous fans, Colin Montgomerie was nowhere to be seen. This was not an ego trip for Montgomerie, he had not done all this merely to bask in glory in front of the TV cameras, he had done it because he wanted to win for Europe; his players and of course himself. Instead of celebrating on the 17th green, the captain instead opted for a quiet moment of reflection in the clubhouse, presumably to take in what he and his team had just achieved.

As he stood on stage to give his speech, one could not help but notice what a class act Montgomerie is. He was gracious in victory, praising US captain Corey Pavin and the US team, as well as the fans; his own players; his vice captains and the green keepers at the Celtic Manor Resort, who have worked miracles over the last four days. As his speech drew to a close, Monty described it as “the greatest moment of my golfing career.”

Well done Monty, this was your long awaited Major.

Categories: Golf

Should we have sympathy for Tiger Woods?

July 5, 2010 3 comments

In the Tiger Woods video games one of the player-controlled golfer’s exclamations is “where is the break!?” The man whose name the game bears must be thinking exactly the same. It has been a tough eight or nine months for the world’s number one golfer. When news broke of a car accident near his Florida home last November, few could have imagined the story that was about to unfold. I won’t go in to the ins and outs of it as I am sure you all know them by now, but it basically involves Woods satisfying what was later revealed as a sex addiction with a string of beauties.

His inability to say no has seemingly cost him his marriage to Swedish model Elin Nordegren, with reports this week suggesting that a $200 million divorce settlement is close to being finalised. More importantly, it has probably cost him everyday access to his two young children. Having spoken of the effects his own father’s infidelity had on his family life, Tiger is acutely aware of the lasting damage he has done and it is something he will have to live with for the rest of his life.

Now I will make it clear at this point that I in no way condone Woods’s actions. He, and only he, is to blame for sleeping with a number of other women. No one made him. No one makes you marry these days and you can live that playboy lifestyle if you so choose, but not if you get married. Woods broke the most important moral code there is and that is unforgiveable. I also have to stress that I feel for his wife. If being cheated on makes you feel inadequate, imagine how it must feel when the whole world knows about it. However, has he deserved the treatment to which he has been subjected?

Tiger Woods is still dealing with the fallout from a string of affairs. (This image is the property of the Daily Mail)

Let’s be honest, Woods has done what millions of people, men and women, do every year so this is hardly an earth-shattering revelation, especially in the US. Now this does not make it alright, but these people get to deal with the mess they have caused in their own time and in privacy. The 14 time major winner does not have that luxury. Every move he makes, both on and off the golf course, is scrutinised by fans, fellow players, so-called body language experts and, well, everyone really. ‘Normal’ people who cheat, often still enjoy the support of friends and family and whilst I do not know Tiger’s personal situation, he must surely feel like the whole world has turned against him. When David Beckham reportedly cheated on Victoria, the press inexplicably blamed her, so why is Tiger Woods being treated differently?

Is it because he held his hands up and admitted he has a problem? Acknowledging that you have a problem is the first step in addressing it and so Tiger deserves some credit for this. Admitting to the world that you have a sex addiction cannot be easy. Most of us would have difficulty telling our parents. Many of those lambasting the golfer do not know what goes on in his private life and who is to say that they would never do it? If they were faced with the temptation Woods was, would they be able to say no? It is wrong to judge somebody’s life from the outside looking in. We are all guilty of this, but some of what has been written about Woods is out of order. In some social circles (barbaric ones) he would be lauded as a ‘legend’ and ‘hero’ and I dare say that there is an element of envy in the Woods hate campaign.

The problem is that Woods (with the aid of his masterful PR team) perhaps made a rod for his own back when he chose to promote himself as wholesome role model with strong family values and made millions of dollars off the back of this image. His behaviour therefore, is seen as unforgiveable and riddled with hypocrisy. Indeed Woods cashed in to an unbelievable extent on his fame, talent and good looks, reportedly becoming sport’s first billionaire and maybe it is this that people resent. Maybe they feel they have been taken for a ride. The fame and the greenbacks do not however, make it any easier for him to deal with a personal crisis. Whatever the case, Woods knows he has made a monumental error of judgement, one that has cost him his wife, children and millions of dollars, not to mention his reputation and whilst people are right to point out that infidelity is not acceptable and that he deserves no sympathy following his actions, the time has come to let him deal with the mess he has made in privacy and in his own time. He deserves at least that and if he does not, then his wife and children do.

So, does Woods deserve sympathy? No. Are the problems of his own doing? Yes. Should he be allowed to grieve in private? Yes.

The saddest part of the whole saga is that we seem to have forgotten what made Tiger Woods famous; golf. He is one of, if not the, greatest golfer to ever swing a club and whether or not people like to admit it, golf needs Tiger Woods more than Tiger Woods needs golf. The golf world is currently impoverished with Woods clearly a shadow of his former self. The sooner he is allowed to focus on his game, the better for all of us, for there is arguably no finer sight in sport than an on song Tiger prowling the course on day four. Let’s hope we get to see it again soon.

Categories: Golf

Lorena Ochoa: Some things are simply more important than sport

May 6, 2010 Leave a comment

In an era where sport is an obsession for many and big, big business for companies the world over, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that there are many things more important than sport. Sportsmen and sportswomen around the world enjoy the perks their celebrity status brings and the money that they can command for plying their respective trades and endorsing a multitude of products. Lorena Ochoa however, goes against the grain.

On the face of it, the Mexican has it all. Her natural talent and dedication to her profession have led to 27 LPGA tour wins, including two majors (2008 Kraft Nabisco Championship and 2007 Women’s Open Championship) all of which have netted her significant winnings. To this you can add a raft of lucrative endorsement deals with the likes of Audi, Banamex and PING thought to be worth north of $10 million a year. She has also been the number one ranked women’s golfer in the world for the last three years (2007-2010). In short, she has the world at her feet. Or at least she did.

Ochoa in action at St Andrews (This image is the property of The Daily Mail)

At the age of just 28, Ochoa has taken what is a highly unusual step for a modern day sports star and decided to turn her back on the wealth, acclaim and fame that her status as world number one affords her. For Ochoa, some things are more important than golf and her attitude in refreshing.

Playing at her current level, the diminutive Mexican could easily continue to win tournaments and pocket millions of greenbacks, but she has nobly decided that family life should come first. Ochoa married Andrés Conesa Labastida, CEO of Aeromexico in December 2009 and has said that she wants to start a family. Whilst away playing golf in Thailand recently she commented that she really did not want to be out there and that being close to her family is very important to her. Consequently, on April 20th this year, she announced that she was to retire from the sport. She has left the door open to a return and many say she is foolish for leaving whilst at the peak of her powers, but her stance is to be admired in an age of greed-driven sports stars.

Not only is she keen to start a family, she also wants to devote more time to helping others. The Lorena Ochoa Foundation operates a school for around 250 under-privileged children in her hometown of Guadalajara in Mexico and a high school has recently been opened as well. Ochoa may have been fortunate, but she has not forgotten that many are not.

Her attitude is an eye opener and she is to be applauded for her willingness to turn her back on fame and fortune and the benefits they undoubtedly bring. The sport of golf will miss her, particularly the women’s game and it has to be said that her attitude is in stark contrast to that of her male counterpart, Tiger Woods who gorged on the perks a bit too much.

Categories: Golf