Manaserro warming to task posed by home of golf

MATTEO Manaserro's welcome to Scotland as a professional has been much colder than the warmth he felt as an amateur in last year's Open Championship at Turnberry, where the Italian prodigy thrilled the crowds along with Tom Watson, one of his playing partners in the opening two rounds, in finishing 13th to claim the Silver Medal.

But, heartened by the news that better weather was forecast for the weekend, Manaserro is confident he can rubberstamp his huge potential once again in the home of golf by making his presence felt in the 170,000 Scottish Hydro Challenge, starting today at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore.

"It is very cold – colder than I expected it to be," said the 17-year-old after playing in yesterday's pro-am in the shadow of the snow-capped Cairngorms, where a temperature of 54C was more than 20C less than in his native Verona. "This is probably the furthest north I have ever played. I did not know what to expect but I like the place. I think with a bit of sunshine it will be great and I'm pleased to hear it is going to get better."

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While Manaserro is making his Challenge Tour debut this week, he's already made two cuts on the European Tour – tying for 17th in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and sharing 29th spot in the BMW Italian Open in Turin. As an affiliate member, he's entitled to seven starts on the main circuit and has already decided to play in the BMW International Open and French Open.

"I have still to decide about the Scottish Open and, with only seven invites, I will play in what I am more comfortable with," he declared. "But, if I get a top ten in the French Open (to automatically earn a spot in the Barclays event], I will be happy to play at Loch Lomond."

Manaserro's hopes of making a second successive Open Championship appearance in Scotland were dashed at Sunningdale on Monday, when he failed by a single shot to make the play-off for the last of the spots up for grabs at St Andrews in the European International Final Qualifier. He now probably needs to win in Germany, France or Scotland to secure a place at the Old Course.

Since becoming the youngest-ever Amateur champion – he claimed that title just under a year ago at Formby – Manaserro has been accustomed to playing on the game's biggest stages, including an appearance at Augusta National, where he set another record by becoming the youngest player to make the cut in The Masters.

However, his main goal this year is to secure his European Tour card for next season, hence the reason he's opening up another possible route by turning his attention to the Challenge Tour, the top 20 on which at the end of this year will earn tickets for the main circuit.

"This is another way to get my card and I am planning to play on seven events on the Challenge Tour between now and the end of the year," he said. "I have made two cuts quite comfortably (as a professional] and I am pleased with the way I started my professional career."

Asked if there was a danger of him becoming impatient, he insisted: "That can happen in you get to the top quick and then don't get results you expect. Then you can be very impatient. I have a lot of time in front of me and I am sure that if I keep working hard and playing then the results will come. I feel they are coming already."

In the opening two rounds, Manaserro's playing partners will be Scotland's Jamie McLeary, the defending champion, and Robert Dinwiddie, who was born in Dumfries but was playing under the English flag when he succeeded Richie Ramsay as the Scottish Stroke Play champion in 2005.

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Like his fellow Scots on the Challenge Tour, McLeary, who beat a field last year that included Edoardo Molinari and Rhys Davies, is in a hurry to get on to the main circuit, but says that is easier said than done. "I don't think people realise how good the standard is on the Challenge Tour. I think there are guys on this circuit who are better than the main Tour but just haven't made that step up," he said.

"I'd like to see a football-type system whereby 30 players are promoted from the Challenge Tour and 30 players relegated from the European Tour."

The field at Spey Valley contains 30 Scots, including Raymond Russell, currently 16th on the Challenge Tour Order of Merit, Tartan Tour No1 Greig Hutcheon, two of the Saltman brothers, Elliot and Lloyd, as well as Craig Lee and Chris Doak.

In addition to a first prize of nearly 27,000, the winner on Sunday will earn a spot in the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles later in the year.