BERNARD Gallacher has lost his mantle as the youngest winner of the BMW PGA Championship to a player hailed as “the future of the European Tour” by 2014 Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley.
Italian 20-year-old Matteo Manassero is the proud new holder of that honour after beating Simon Khan, the 2010 champion, at the fourth extra hole in a play-off after Marc Warren had already bowed out of a three-man title shoot-out at Wentworth.
The victory earned Manassero a whopping cheque for just under £670,000, a five-year exemption for the European circuit and spots in both the US Open and Open Championship in the coming weeks.
“I’m the happiest man in the world right now,” declared Manassero after claiming his fourth European Tour triumph, the latest one coming less than two years after he was playing in the Scottish Challenge in Aviemore. “It’s great to get all these rewards that are amazing, but right now I’m just thinking about being PGA champion.”
Up to 30th in the world rankings, Manassero joined his hero, Seve Ballesteros, on the roll of honour after coming out on top at the end of a dramatic day on the famed West Course.
Two-time runner-up Lee Westwood opened up an early two-shot lead before Warren birdied four holes in a row from the tenth to get his nose in front with four to play.
But, after closing with a 69 for a ten-under total, Manassero showed his class in the play-off by being rewarded for showing adventure as he went with a driver at the fourth visit to the 18th to win with his third birdie in the shoot-out. “It’s been an amazing week and I’m feeling really emotional right now,” added the new champion. “I’ve always felt something special about this place and this tournament and everything came together this week.”
Manassero’s win was watched by European Ryder Cup captain McGinley in his new commentary role with Sky Sports. “He’s the future of the European Tour,” said the Irishman. “He’s won a big title now and all credit to him.”
Warren, who saw his chances disappear after hitting a 3-wood into the trees at the first extra hole, said: “I did absolutely nothing wrong all week, it’s all positives. I put together a really good back nine today to give myself a chance of winning.
“In regular events outside the majors this is the most pressure we play in and I loved every second of it. I felt confident going into the play-off given my previous record (of four wins as a professional).
“And, although I changed my gameplan there all week by taking a 3-wood rather than a 3-iron, I felt I had to go for it so I stand by that, it was the right thing to do. It would have felt worse taking a five and losing while the other guys made fours.”
While admitting it was “disappointing” to miss out on a third victory chance in less than a year, Warren added: “The main positive is that I was there again. I’m really comfortable in what I’m doing. I’ve got new equipment in Callaway now and this is the first week I’ve felt 100 per cent with the driver.
“I’ve been in contention in two tournaments out of the last four, which means I must be on the right track.”
The 32-year-old, whose consolation was a cheque for around £350,000 that moves him to 16th in the Race to Dubai, was met as he came off the green by wife Laura and his baby son Archie, who is barely two months old.
“It certainly puts things in perspective,” he declared. “It was great to come off, see Laura and the wee man and get a cuddle.”