Manassero leads Andalucia Open by three after record-tying first round

matteo manassero at the andalucia open
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Matteo Manassero carded nine birdies and a bogey Thursday to tie the Aloha Golf Club course record with a 64 and take a three-shot lead in the Andalucia Open.
PA Sport

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Thursday, March 15, 2012 | 3:13 p.m.

Matteo Manassero is the man -- or rather boy -- to catch after a course record-tying start to the Andalucia Open on Thursday.

The young Italian star, still in with a chance of qualifying for next month's Masters, fired an 8-under-par 64 for a three-stroke lead in the European Tour event at Aloha Golf Club.

Tied for second are ex-Ryder Cup player Niclas Fasth of Sweden, Englishmen Anthony Wall and Q-School graduate Lloyd Kennedy, South African Open champion Hennie Otto and Spain's Eduardo de la Riva.

Manassero, 18, is currently 63rd in the world and has this tournament and next week's Hassan Trophy in Morocco to try to make it into the top 50 for Augusta National.

He played the Masters as British Amateur champion two years ago, made the halfway cut and six months later became the European Tour's youngest-ever winner. That came at Sergio Garcia's home course in Castellon, and being back on Spanish soil brought back memories.

"It's quite similar, but a little bit more hilly," Manassero said after matching the score of Lee Westwood en route to his victory in 2007.

"It's a course that suits me and hopefully it will be my week," added the teenager who ranks 173rd out of 185 in driving distance on the Tour about playing a course where seven of the par 4s are less than 400 yards. "You have to put the ball in play and then do well around the greens. I did pretty much everything right apart from one shot."

He bogeyed the seventh, his 16th, after a poor pitch, but already had seven birdies on his card and finished with two more.

Fasth, a member of Europe's winning side at The Belfry a decade ago, had to fall back on his career earnings to keep his Tour card last year after slumping to 132nd on the money list. The 39-year-old, with only one top-3 finish in the last four seasons, eagled the long 16th and had six birdies to reach 6 under, but finished with his third bogey.

Former Masters champion Mike Weir, over from Canada trying to reignite his career following elbow surgery, opened with a 68, while Abu Dhabi winner Robert Rock and tournament host Miguel Angel Jimenez returned 69s playing with Manassero.

Rock, conqueror of Tiger Woods in January, is another just outside the top 50 and winning on Sunday could virtually clinch a Masters debut for him, while Manassero would still have to play well next week.

Colin Montgomerie -- Masters-bound as well, but only for TV commentary work -- is in a fight to survive the halfway cut after a 73.