Kuala Lumpur: Matteo Manassero gave himself the perfect birthday gift by becoming the youngest ever champion of the Maybank Malaysian Open, holding off challenges from Gregory Bourdy and Rory McIlroy on Sunday.
The dashing Italian, who turns 18 on Tuesday, produced a superb final round of four-under-par 68, thanks largely to a pivotal eagle three on the 10th hole to triumph by one with a 16-under-par 272 from Frenchman Bourdy, who battled to a 67 at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.
A week after his Masters disappointment where he led for 63 holes before fading away, McIlroy produced a brave fight in the US$2.5 million showpiece, which was celebrating its 50th anniversary and sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour.
The Northern Irishman, the world number nine, battled magnificently on the back nine to give himself a title chance but failed to find the crucial birdie at the last hole to force a play-off with Manassero as he settled for third place with a 69 for a 274 total.
Manassero, who will break into the world’s top-35 with his second career victory, said: “It’s fantastic. I managed to achieve a victory which is just fantastic. To have another win two days before 18, it’s a great achievement.”
The Italian completed his third round this morning with a 67 to enter the final round tied for the lead with Alexander Noren of Sweden and showed his immense talent by emerging atop a crowded leaderboard.
He needed two crucial up and downs for par saves on the eighth and nine holes to turn in 35 before producing the shot of the week by holing out a nine iron approach for an eagle three at the par five 10th hole to grab the lead from Bourdy.
Two more birdies and a lone bogey ensured Manassero, who eclipsed last year’s winner Noh Seung-yul of Korea as the youngest champion, stayed ahead of the chasing pack as he picked up the Seagram Trophy from Malaysian prime minister Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak and a winner’s cheque of US$416,660.
“The up and downs on eight and nine were very big. They left me on top of the leaderboard at one behind Bourdy at the time. Two great up and downs from the bunker and then holing a nine iron on 10 (for eagle) was maybe the turning point and made me think of the possibility of winning,” said Manassero, who was last season’s Rookie of the Year in Europe.
“It wasn’t easy. It was tough. The course is really tight and all the players were doing good and playing well. It’s just not easy to concentrate, especially to stay calm. I managed quite well. Fortunately I ended up like this.
Asked how he planned to celebrate his birthday on Tuesday, Manassero said he would be looking at altering his playing schedule as a place in the world’s top-50 would get him into the Majors.
McIlroy, 21, was disappointed with the result but soaked in the positives. “To shoot the scores that I did considering the travelling is a pretty good effort. I’m disappointed with the result but everything else was positive. I’m proud at how I picked myself up from last week and the way I came back on the back nine today,” he said.
He tipped his hat to the Manassero for a well deserved victory. “Matteo is fantastic. He is a great talent. He turns 18 on Tuesday and to get two wins on the European Tour before your 18th birthday is pretty special. He is great and we’ve known he is a great player. He deserves it.”
Bangladesh’s Siddikur was the top Asian Tour finisher in eighth place after he signed off with a 69 to finish seven shots behind the winner. He produced a grandstand finish with a birdie on the last which was received by a rapturous applause by the spectators.
“The crowd was very supportive and they cheered me on. It felt like I won the tournament after my birdie (18th hole). I had many supporters following me today. I’m happy to finish in the top-10 and show the world that a player from Bangladesh can perform in such a big event,” said Siddikur, the 2010 Brunei Open champion.
World number one Martin Kaymer of Germany finished in tied ninth place after closing with a 72 while Masters Tournament champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa claimed a share of 11th place after a 70.
Danny Chia, the lone Malaysian who made the halfway cut, settled for tied 42\1nd position with a final round 76.
Leading final round scores
272 - Matteo MANASSERO (ITA) 66-71-67-68.
273 - Gregory BOURDY (FRA) 71-69-66-67.
274 - Rory MCILROY (NIR) 69-64-72-69.
275 - Rafael CABRERA-BELLO (ESP) 69-70-69-67, Alexander NOREN (SWE) 64-69-71-71.
276 - Felipe AGUILAR (CHI) 70-70-66-70.
278 - Simon DYSON (ENG) 70-64-76-68.
279 - SIDDIKUR (BAN) 68-71-71-69.
280 - Alejandro CANIZARES (ESP) 69-72-68-71, Martin KAYMER (GER) 70-71-67-72.
281 - Charl SCHWARTZEL (RSA) 73-71-67-70, Stephen GALLACHER (SCO) 67-70-72-72.
282 - Robert ROCK (ENG) 70-71-70-71, Shiv KAPUR (IND) 71-69-71-71, James MORRISON (ENG) 69-71-70-72, Soren KJELDSEN (DEN) 73-70-72-67.
Photo - Asian Tour
Asian Tour GolfGreedy.com