Manassero targeting top 50 for Major shot
Precocious Italian Matteo Manassero is eager to shine at the Transitions Championship this week in his quest to return to Augusta.
The 17-year-old Italian sits 55th in the world rankings and must break into the top 50 to come back to Augusta National for the opening grand slam event of the year from April 7-10.
"It's obviously a good opportunity for me to be here to try to get some points, some world ranking points and see if I can get in Augusta," Manassero told reporters at Innisbrook on Wednesday.
The Transitions field includes world number one Martin Kaymer of Germany and American Nick Watney, winner of last week's WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.
But Manassero is not flustered by top-flight competition.
Followed last year by an Augusta gallery crowded with giddy teenage girls, the then 16-year-old Italian became the youngest player to tee it up for a Masters and the youngest to make the cut, finishing tied for 36th.
Manassero earned his ticket to the Masters last year by winning the British Amateur champion but now as a professional must fight his way into the field.
Trail blazer Manassero, who makes up for a lack of power with deadly precision, left the amateur ranks after his Augusta adventure and showed he belonged with the pros.
He won the Castello Masters last October to become the youngest player to win on the European Tour and this season finished tied for ninth at the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship.
Manassero said he planned to make his Masters push this week and again next week at Bay Hill.
"I'm focused on making two good tournaments. I'm pretty close. I'm not far away," he said.
The six-foot,174-pound Manassero said he had been working out to build his strength and practiced hard on putting to become more consistent.
"There's a lot involved in the game to get some yardage to carry with the driver, which is obviously important in courses, maybe like Doral, or even Augusta, those kind of courses," he said, reckoning he had added about 10 yards to his drives.
Manassero will be paired with Spaniard Sergio Garcia and former Masters champion Zach Johnson in the first two rounds.
The Italian said he would feel at home playing with Garcia, whose path he has followed as a young up-and-comer.
"It's very good. We are good friends. We played quite a lot before," said Manassero. "We are quite friendly and know him well. It's definitely a great pairing."