Maturing Manassero ready for Verdura revival
Italian stallion is in solid form
Tournament starts 6am Thursday
Live on Sky Sports 4 from 10.30am
Palmer's top tip
Matteo Manassero 33-1
The inaugural Rocco Forte Open takes place this week at a picturesque layout in Sicily which looks the perfect stage for Matteo Manassero to revive a faltering career.
Manassero won twice on the European Tour before his 18th birthday, then two further titles, culminating in BMW PGA Championship glory at the age of 20. That Wentworth success is almost exactly four years ago, and no silverware has been lifted since.
Attempts to alter his swing to gain more length off the tee were one reason for the form dip, but after such a blistering start to life as professional golfer at such a tender age, making the difficult transition from boy to man probably has more to do with the fallow period. The spotlight, wealth and pressure of expectation may have arrived too quickly.
Manassero turned 24 last month, so still has more than two decades ahead of him in top-flight golf if he can rediscover the magic which made him a star, and a home gig on a course which plays to his strengths looks just the tonic. Verdura is a fairly tight links, where the Italian's accuracy and comfort by the sea stands him in good stead.
Manassero immediately proved himself a quality links golfer when winning the 2009 Amateur Championship at Formby, then he was low amateur in the Open at Turnberry that year, sharing 13th place. Some of his best recent golf has been in the Scottish Open on a links – fourth place in 2014 at Royal Aberdeen and third spot last year at Castle Stuart.
Manassero has contended in his home country before, finishing third in the 2012 Italian Open, and the galleries will be on his side this week. Francesco Molinari was inspired by the support in September and won the Italian Open – this time it may be Manny's turn. He missed the cut in the 2012 Sicilian Open at the Verdura Resort, but that was on a different set of holes.
This year has been an encouraging one for Manassero and his backers. He has missed only one cut in eight starts – and that was by a single shot on a long, unsuitable course in Qatar – and third place in the Indian Open two months ago was a significant boost.
Manassero signed off with a 67 in the Shenzhen International, then carded four rounds of par or better in the China Open, before holing some clutch putts to help Italy (alongside Renato Paratore) to the semi-finals of the GolfSixes pairs event last time out, where they lost to eventual champions Denmark. The little master may be peaking at the perfect time.
Romain Wattel 60-1
Manassero has four victories under his belt and it is a surprise that Romain Wattel is yet to get off the mark. Wattel, like Manassero, impressed at a young age, winning on the Challenge Tour as an amateur, and was expected to quickly make an impact in the higher grade.
Wattel is only 26, so has no need to panic, and May was the month last year when he rediscovered his A-game, finishing fourth in the BMW PGA Championship to bank €212,333. More healthy spring booty could be coming this week, given he has made six cuts in a row and carded a seven-under-par weekend in China last time out.
Wattel topped the greens-in-regulation statistics in the Indian Open in March and may finally be ready to get over the line in front with a decent week of putting. The Frenchman has posted 25 top-ten finishes on the European Tour, including six top-threes.
Chris Paisley 110-1
Alexander Bjork 50-1
Chris Paisley was unlucky to run into two elite, in-form players when finishing third behind Francesco Molinari and Danny Willett in last year's Italian Open. Paisley enjoyed Italy in his Challenge Tour days, finishing sixth in the 2012 Acaya Open, and has gone on to establish himself on the European Tour.
Paisley has made nine cuts in a row, including 13th place in Qatar and 15th in Dubai, and looks more than good enough to win in this week's company. Three-figure quotes were a surprise. The Hexham man could be inspired by the maiden victory of his friend Matt Wallace in Portugal on Sunday.
Complete your staking plan with Alexander Bjork, who is forging a solid European Tour career for himself through tee-to-green precision and could take a shine to Verdura. He impressed in Italy on the Challenge Tour last year, finishing fourth in the Montecchia Open and second in the Terre dei Consoli Open, and has quickly adjusted to the higher grade.
Bjork was seventh in the SA Open in January, 13th in Abu Dhabi, 28th in Qatar, fifth in the Tshwane Open and 14th in the Shenzhen International. Patrik Sjoland, Fredrik Andersson Hed and Rikard Karlberg used the Italian Open to make a European Tour breakthrough, and Bjork could be the next Swede to flourish in this part of the world.
Others to note
The injury-plagued 36-year-old Italian ended a title drought of almost seven years when winning the Hassan Trophy a month ago. Was it a fluke or is the former Ryder Cup star back in business?
The 20-year-old Roman boy has showcased a raw, power-packed talent on the European Tour over the last three seasons. He may be ready to shed his maiden tag.
The favourite due to consistent form in rookie campaign. Missed the cut last time out, though, had a fortnight off, and was at the Spanish GP at the weekend. No guarantee of performance.
The improving Shrewsbury boy was eighth in the Hassan Trophy and 18th in Portugal on Sunday. Tied for 12th in the 2015 Open and tempting at 100-1.
The Swede's finest hour came in the 2015 Italian Open. A solid performance in China last time out may attract his fans.
The four-time European Tour champion should enjoy this assignment. Has twice made the places in the Italian Open.
2.5pts each-way 33-1 BetBright
1.5pts each-way 60-1 bet365
1pt each-way 110-1 Betfred
1pt each-way 50-1 Sky Bet
Rising star ready to shine
When Thomas Detry and Chris Hanson retire and look back on their career, one could have a mantelpiece full of trophies with which to stir memories, while the other may well have no significant silverware in his possession.
Hanson has featured on some European Tour leaderboards over the last year, the genial Yorkshireman picking up plenty of fans along the way, but bookmakers seem to be getting carried way in their assessment. Detry should be backed to defeat Hanson in Sicily.
Detry is 95 places above Hanson in the world rankings and seven years younger. The 24-year-old Belgian won a tournament on the Challenge Tour by a 12-shot margin in August and it seems only a matter of time before he starts seriously challenging for European Tour honours.
If Hanson was going to become a champion, it would probably have happened by now, so support a progressive youngster against a limited journeyman. Detry is a neat and tidy player who should be able to handle the tricky tee-to-green assignment of Verdura Golf Club.
T Detry to beat C Hanson
1pt 10-11 Coral, Ladbrokes
Rocco Forte Open lowdown
Course Verdura Golf Club, Agrigento, Sicily, Italy
Prize money €1m (€166,660 to the winner)
Length 7,217 yards Par 71 Field 156
When to bet By 6am Thursday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 10.30am Thursday
Time difference Italy is one hour ahead of the UK and Ireland
Last week – Portugal Open 1 M Wallace (50-1), 2 J Suri (125-1), 3 M Pavon (66-1), T4 S Heisele (80-1), S Walker (125-1)
Course overview The Verdura Resort hosted the 2012 Sicilian Open, a European Tour event won by Thorbjorn Olesen, but a different rotation of holes is being used for the Rocco Forte Open. There are two 18-hole championship courses at this venue, both designed by Kyle Phillips and opened in 2009. A composite course combining holes from each track (the East and the West) will be in play for the Rocco, some of which were used for the Sicilian Open. Much of the layout runs alongside the Mediterranean Sea and water is in play on nine holes. The fairways are flat and narrow, while the greens are firm. There are only three par-fives (the second, ninth and 12th). Five of the par-fours are more than 470 yards long, but all the par-threes are 186 yards or shorter
Weather forecast Sunny with light breezes for the most part
Type of player suited to challenge Quality ball-striking appears necessary on a seaside track with relatively tight fairways and a series of long par-fours
Key attribute Accuracy