By Tony Jimenez
LONDON (Reuters) - Seventeen-year-old Matteo Manassero's remarkable four-shot win at the Castello Masters allowed him to claim a proud place alongside Rory McIlroy and Ryo Ishikawa in a trio of young golfing tyros.
The sport has had its share of shocks this year -- with rank outsiders Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen winning the U.S. Open and British Open respectively -- but perhaps the least surprising 'surprise' was Italian Manassero's breakthrough win on Sunday.
The teenager eclipsed New Zealander Danny Lee, who was 18 when he lifted the Johnnie Walker Classic title in Australia last year, by becoming the youngest winner on the European Tour.
Manassero's sparkling talents have been well-known in golf's inner circle since he was hailed by the great Tom Watson at the 2009 British Open.
"I was very impressed with him," five-times British Open champion Watson said after partnering Manassero at Turnberry.
"In fact I told him on the way down the 18th hole, 'Don't change anything, just keep enjoying the game and you will get there.
"He is a beautiful putter but he is also a great striker of the ball. He knows how to hit the ball and he put the ball in play all the time," added Watson.
McIlroy and Ishikawa also know how to keep on golf's straight and narrow.
The 21-year-old from Northern Ireland has shot to number nine in the world after a string of brilliant performances, notably his four-shot win over a top-class field at the Quail Hollow Championship in North Carolina in May.
Ishikawa has also taken the golfing world by storm.
The 19-year-old Japanese has already recorded eight career victories and fired a magical 12-under-par 58 on the way to winning the Crowns tournament in Nagoya in May.
Watson was not the only one impressed by Manassero's display at Turnberry, the teenager compiling consistent rounds of 71-70-72-69 to finish 13th in the third major of 2009.
The good-looking Italian with the ever-present smile carried on in the same vein at this year's U.S. Masters.
Manassero thrilled the galleries, especially the young females, by becoming the youngest player to make the cut at the opening major of the season.
"When I played alongside Tom Watson in the Open it was the best experience I'd ever had -- until now," he said after winning in Spain on Sunday.
It was not simply Manassero's ball-striking that made Watson sit up and take notice at Turnberry.
"He has a passion for the game, that's what I look for in a young golfer," said the American.
"Technique can be added if necessary but if they don't have that passion then I am concerned. Matteo has it."
(Editing by Justin Palmer)