Golf’s Great Debate: McIlroy or Manassero

Quick: Who is the better player between these two young international stars — Matteo Manassero or Rory McIlroy? And for that matter, who has the more wins, the 17-year-old Italian or the 21-year-old from Northern Ireland?

Chances are most of you answered McIlroy, who looked like a world-beater through 63 holes of the Masters before his meltdown on Sunday at Augusta National led to an 80 and a tie for 15th place.

Granted, there was McIlroy back in the thick of it last weekend in Malaysia, where he three-jacked twice going down the stretch and lost to Manassero by a couple of strokes. But to his credit in his very first, well-documented Twitter (or is that Tweet:), he wrote: “Well done, Matty! What a player for 17!”

Which is becoming a common theme for the kid with the curly, albeit shorter, mop of hair – making fun of himself. Like when he imploded on the 64th hole of the Masters with one of the more memorable snap hooks in golf history – “I don’t think anyone’s ever been over in those cabins before.’’ Or when he posted that very cabin photo on his account: “Apparently I was spotted house hunting last week. LOL!’’

LOL? OK, BFD, I can’t rip a young kid for having a sense of humor even if Rory does get abrasive occasionally, like when he pimps the TPC Sawgrass, the PGA Tour and Tiger Woods in general. But the fact is a lot of people have anointed McIlroy after only two professional wins – one in the U.S. and one in Europe.

That, by the way, is the exact number of times Manassero has won on the Euro Tour, as he became the second-youngest player to ever win there last weekend to go with his youngest ever record (16) a year ago. Considering McIlroy is four years his elder – Manassero turned 18 Tuesday and McIlroy goes to 22 on May 4 – I’ll take Manassero.

Here’s what I don’t like about McIlroy’s game, which has nothing to do with the kid from Holywood (no, that’s not a typo). He can’t putt, especially in the clutch. It’s cost him numerous times coming down the stretch in his brief career. Granted, the snap-hook drive at No. 10 at the Masters lit the powder keg, but it was the four-jack at the 12th that blew his bid sky-high.

McIlroy reminds me of a combination of Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia, who were both the “next Tiger’’ at one point in their early careers. But Scott and Garcia have yet to win a major, and Sergio never will. Even though Scott has gone to the long putter, I don’t see it happening for him, either.

The rub on Manassero is that he’s short off the tee, but make no mistake, this youngster can putt, which is what I like about him. That’s why Matty is No. 33 in the world and rising, and why, ultimately, after he gets a little more bulk to his frame and length to his game, he’s your next superstar – “the next Seve,’’ which just happens to be Manassero’s hero.


Speaking of young and restless, how about Peter Kyo Won Koo’s win last week in the Arizona Stroke Play tournament at TPC Champions, where the 15-year-old from Chandler beat the best amateurs in the state?

That was impressive stuff from the freshman at Hamilton High, who became the youngest winner ever of an Arizona Golf Association tournament. The cool-headed Koo, who already is No. 2 man for the Huskies, took a five-shot lead into the finale, blew the lead and then came back to win by 2 strokes.

Koo’s gutsy effort in the face of adversity (he had lost his big lead after just five holes) erased the old standard held by the late Bob Goldwater (1926 Arizona Amateur) and Philip Francis (2005 Arizona Publinks), who were 16 when they did the trick.

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