Saturday 26 May 2018

Super Matteo bounces back

Irish duo of Harrington and McDowell still in the hunt in Scottish Open

Pádraig Harrington putts during the second round of the AAM Scottish Open at Castle Stuart, Inverness. Photo: Getty Images
Pádraig Harrington putts during the second round of the AAM Scottish Open at Castle Stuart, Inverness. Photo: Getty Images

The forgotten man of European golf surged into contention for a first win in three years in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.

Italy's Matteo Manassero was the youngest winner in European Tour history when he claimed the Castello Masters in 2010 aged 17 years and 188 days and added further titles in each of the next three seasons.

The last of those came in the prestigious BMW PGA Championship in 2013 and helped Manassero reach a career-high of 25th in the world, but the 23-year-old arrived in Scotland a lowly 596th after just two top-10 finishes since the start of 2014.

A change of technique in pursuit of more length off the tee was initially to blame for the slump in form, but Manassero admitted it then became a mental battle to rediscover the kind of form he showed yesterday with a 67 to lie two shots behind halfway leader Alex Noren.

Manassero shared fourth place with Branden Grace, Richard Bland and Jorge Campillo, with the Irish duo of Pádraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell a shot further back.

Paul Dunne (+4), Shane Lowry (+6) and Paul McGinley (+9) all missed the cut after respective rounds of 70. 73 and 76.

Michael Hoey's level par round of 72 helped him survive the cut (+2).

"It has been really hard with a lot of ups and downs, mainly downs," said Manassero, who was just 16 in becoming the youngest winner of the Amateur Championship in 2009 and finished 13th in the Open at Turnberry a month later.

"I was feeling bad on the golf course. Every time I had an important or difficult shot I was missing it because of the (mental) approach. It's something that starts with little things and when you have never really played badly before, it's hard and you keep going down."

Manassero missed 16 cuts in succession from last year's Irish Open and was 893rd in the world rankings following another early exit from April's Spanish Open.

However, he showed signs of improvement the following two weeks in China and finishing 12th in Sweden and 13th in Germany recently confirmed he was back on the right track.

"I found in myself a way to get out of it," Manassero added. "It was a slow process, it was not something that clicked and that's probably a good thing because I know why I am playing better and feel better."

Five birdies in the space of seven holes helped leader Noren card a flawless 66 to finish eight-under, a shot ahead of playing partner Eddie Pepperell (67) and Danny Lee.

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