The Italian who turns 19 next week, claimed a sensational one-stroke victory over Frenchman Grégory Bourdy at the 50th jubilee of the National Open last year, when he powered home with a closing round of 68 to lift the Seagram Trophy with a 16-under-par 272 total.
The victory was Manassero’s second on the European Tour and proved pivotal in his young professional career, as it pushed him into the world’s top-50 list, opening doors to opportunities to play in World Golf Championships events and the Majors.
“The win here was definitely the greatest moment in my young career. To win for a second time, it sort of reaffirmed my belief that I was good enough to win multiple titles on Tour. It was also great to be able to claim a championship in a completely different setting and with a world class field in attendance, it was very important for my game,” said Manassero, as he recalled his victory last year against the likes of Major winner such as Charl Schwartzel, Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy and not forgetting, Louis Oosthuizen.
“I’ve learned a lot since my victory here at the Maybank Malaysian Open as I managed to get a lot of playing opportunities at World Golf Championship (WGC) events as well as the a couple of Majors. I was able to play with some great golfers, great courses and travel around the globe and it was really a great learning experience,” he added.
The reigning champion also expressed his delight at returning to the resplendent Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club for the 51st edition this year. “I have a lot of great memories here and it feels good to be able to come back and defend the Maybank Malaysian Open. With that feeling of accomplishment inside me, I am very positive and confident ahead of this week. Playing a course where you’ve won definitely feels more relaxing and you can score well without trying too hard,” he added.
With two top-ten finishes to date this year, including a strong runner-up finish at the Andalucia Open Costa De Sol and a tied sixth at the Trophée Hassan II, Manassero believes that he is coming into form at the right time.
“I played really well over the last month or so – perhaps, the best I’ve been in the last eight months and the two good finishes have definitely raised my confidence coming into this event. My mindset this week is the same like any other European Tour tournament, I want to do well and definitely, that little spark of being the defending champion is keeping me excited,” he shared.
While acknowledging that the pressure will be on him to deliver as the defending champion, Manassero feels he has matured enough in the last two years to handle it.
“It’s nice to have expectations on you, it means you done well with me turning professional so young, I did have my doubters. Recognition of what I have achieved in the first two years of my professional career is nice but it does add that ounce of pressure but I feel that I have the experience to deal with it because its always going to be there if I play well,” he concluded, noting that he expects the winning score to be around 16 to 18-under par if the weather remains favorable.
Also buzzing ahead of the US$2.5 million co-sanctioned championship this week are the likes of Digvijay Singh, Siddikur and Kiradech Aphibarnrat of the Asian Tour.
Singh, who ended an agonising 12-year wait for victory on the region’s top circuit when he triumphed at the Panasonic India Open a fortnight ago, as set his targets on moving up the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit with another inspiring display in Kuala Lumpur.
“After that win, a lot has changed especially in my confidence and the way I look at the game. I’m not worried about keeping my Asian Tour card anymore. The win was great, there was no doubt about that. I can take a lot of positives from that. If you can do it once, you can do it twice and if you do it twice, you can do it more than that. My goal is to do well here and try and finish as high up as I can on the Order of Merit. I need to try and have a more consistent scoring season,” said the 40-year-old.
Bangladeshi Siddikur, who was the top-placed Asian in the field last year when he finished in tied-eighth is hoping to have a strong crowd following him this week. “I have always enjoyed coming and playing in Malaysia and I’m glad to have a strong following here. When I see the crowd following and cheering for me, it gives me more energy to play,” said Siddikur, who has come close in recent weeks to add a second Asian Tour title to his belt, finishing second behind Singh at Delhi Golf & Country Club.
“I’ve been able to manage my distance better since I had a coaching stint at TPC Sawgrass in Florida earlier this year. I’ve got more distance now and that has given me the confidence to play better. I am hitting at least 10 yards more, so that will come in handy here this week,” he shared.
For the burly Thai Aphibarnrat, fond memories of strong finishes in 2011 and 2010 will definitely provide ammunition for another assault at the prestigious championship. “The playing field is strong and there’s pressure to be playing with these top players. It will be difficult to defeat them but my game is shaping up nicely and I’m up for the challenge,” said the 23-year-old, who had an electric start to the 2012 season, finishing second at the Zaykabar Myanmar Open Presented by Air Bagan and tenth at the co-sanctioned Avantha Masters.