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Italian amateur Matteo Manassero is 16 going on, oh, just the Masters

Amateur Matteo Manassero, who won the British amateur, shoots 4-under in the par 3 event Wednesday at Augusta.

Associated Press

Amateur Matteo Manassero, who won the British amateur, shoots 4-under in the par 3 event Wednesday at Augusta.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Even for a kid who hasn't done a lot of living, it was the ride of a lifetime.

The silver Mercedes rolled up Magnolia Lane, and the kid in the backseat peered out as the beauty unfolded around him. This was the famous road he had heard about since he was a kid, oh, about 15 minutes ago. Ahead was Augusta National, the course he had watched on television so many times.

Imagine how it must have looked through the eyes of Matteo Manassero, boy wonder. Imagine how it felt as the colors, the smell of the flowers, even the thickness of the pollen, flooded his senses.

Ah, yes. Manassero was at the Masters.

Already.

Looking back, you would have to agree it has been a fast journey to get here.

Manassero is 16, and he looks 14, and already, he has qualified for the Masters. He rides in the backseat because he cannot yet drive, and already, he is preparing to tee it up in Augusta. He looks like an extra from iCarly, or perhaps the lost Jonas brother, and already, he is in contention for a green jacket.

Here's a question: What is the teenager in your house doing this weekend?

As for Manassero, he's playing a little golf.

Talk about your junior achievement. Today, the teenager from Verona, Italy, will become the youngest player ever to tee it up in a Masters, which was possible because he became the youngest ever winner of the 124-year-old British amateur in June. In a tournament where everything is about age and tradition, everything about Manassero seems young. At least, until he picks up a golf club.

"It is special, this place," Manassero said Wednesday through good, if heavily accented, English. "I have seen many great golf courses, but this is something really different. It has a special atmosphere. Of course, Amen Corner, and the whole back nine, because I have seen them on television many times. But I'm not talking just about the course. I'm talking about … everything."

This year, Manassero is part of that everything. And, so far, he doesn't look out of place. Did you see the 4-under he threw up in the par 3 tournament? Granted, Wednesday is for grin-and-goof golf, but it didn't exactly seem like a kid in over his head.

Put it this way: Of all the impressive numbers that have ever been recorded at the Masters, 16 years old is a pretty good one. Matteo is 16. That's junior varsity age. It's Dad-can-I-get-my-license age. It's why-can't-I-see-that-movie age.

Most of the time, it is not are-you-sure-Hogan-did-it-this-way age.

Then again, Manassero isn't your typical 16-year-old, either.

He grew up on a golf course, after all. His parents took him there when he was 3, a year before Tiger Woods won his first Masters, and after that, it was his playground. He said he decided he wanted to be a golf pro "a long time ago."

When, exactly?

"Back when I was 11 or 12," he said.

Oh. So way back four or five years ago.

Back in those old days, Manassero would watch the Masters on television. He would stare at the images of Nick Faldo and Greg Norman and Tiger Woods. His favorite golfer, he said, was Seve Ballesteros, although Ballesteros' career was winding down by the time Manassero began to watch.

In many ways, he is typical of his age. He plays on his cell phone. He listens to music. "I like old-time music," he said. "Like U2." He plays video games. He hangs out with friends. When he came to the Masters, he left his high school textbooks in Italy. Of course he did.

Also, he plays a mean game of golf. On the course, he is consistent, precise, willing to learn. When he played with Tom Watson at last year's British Open, he said, Watson gave him "a lot of advices."

On Wednesday, Manassero stood outside of the clubhouse, looking out on the 18th tee.

"I think I can be a good golfer," said Manassero, who plans to turn pro by May's Italian Open. "I want to be very good. I want to be great. I have, what do you call it? Hunger. I have hunger."

Deep down? Manassero says he wants to make the cut. It's a modest goal. Then again, it would be a good start.

After all, Manassero has an early tee time.

He might as well make the best of it.

Italian amateur Matteo Manassero is 16 going on, oh, just the Masters 04/07/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 8, 2010 7:20am]
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