Italian teen Manassero grabs Omega Masters lead, outshining Molinari

matteo manassero
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After watching Edoardo Molinari win the Johnnie Walker Championship on Sunday, youngster Matteo Manassero outscored him by two shots on Thursday.
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PA Sport and Associated Press

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Italian teenager Matteo Manassero shot a 7-under 64 Thursday to take a one stroke lead in the first round of the European Tour’s Omega European Masters.

“The perfect round of golf,” the 17-year-old Manassero said of his bogey-free round. “I didn’t miss many greens and when I did I got up and down each time, so it was just perfect.”

Mikko Ilonen used his power to shoot a 66 and earn a share of second place alongside Graeme Storm. Edoardo Molinari (66) was a further stroke behind just four days after winning the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles to earn a wild card for next month’s Ryder Cup.

Manassero, who turned professional in May and is allowed a maximum seven sponsor invites, still needs to win his European Tour playing card for 2011. If he fails, he will have to attend tour school in Spain in early December.

Manassero played in the morning when the soft greens at Crans-Sur-Sierre were playing at their best. By the time Molinari teed off after lunch, the heavy traffic of tournament play had made them bumpy.

“I had another good solid round of golf,” Molinari said. “Though on the back nine holes it was a bit scrappy because I found it difficult making putts. In the afternoon the greens were not perfect, so I am looking forward to the second round, starting out in the morning the making some birdies.”

British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, returning to action for the first time since the PGA Championship, shot an even-par 71 with four bogeys and four birdies.

Greg Norman’s first tournament golf after a year spent recovering from shoulder surgery was not encouraging. The 55-year-old Australian and two-time British Open champion drove out of bounds at the par-5 14th on his way to a 4-over 75.

The day’s big story, though was that the latest Italian to make the Ryder Cup was outshone by the 17-year-old very likely to be the next one.

Matteo Manassero, last year's British Amateur champion, matched the lowest round of his short professional career by grabbing seven birdies. The talented teenager -- who finished 13th in the 2009 British Open and 36th at the 2010 Masters -- is trying to become the youngest winner in European Tour history.

Asked about Molinari and his brother Francesco both making Europe's Ryder Cup team, Manassero added: "It's a big inspiration for me and all the guys growing up in Italy. It's unbelievable what they are doing. I watched Edoardo's win on Sunday -- it was beautiful."

Storm and Ilonen are also former British Amateur champions and they have already gone on to European Tour success. Winner of the French Open three years ago, Storm came back from an opening bogey with seven birdies, while Ilonen, with victories in Indonesia and Sweden to his name, sank a bunker shot on his final hole to join him in second place.

Molinari, who is taking three weeks off after this event to rest and then prepare for his Ryder Cup debut, did not drop a stroke, but was lucky at the long 15th when his pulled third shot went into the trees, but came out just short of the green.

Miguel Angel Jimenez, the only other member of Europe's side in the field, had a 67, the same as Ryder Cup vice-captain Darren Clarke.