Matteo Manassero has now won twice in just 25 starts as a professional. Photo: Eoin Clarke/ So the fresh-faced youngster with the Irish caddie won again. No, not Rory McIlroy, who had to settle for third place for the ninth time in his European Tour career, but the 17-year old Italian Matteo Manassero (and Coleraine-born bagman Ryan McGuigan).

The young gentleman from the province of Verona will only celebrate his 18th birthday tomorrow and yet he already has as many professional victories as 21-year old McIlroy - two - after claiming the Maybank Malaysian Open by a stroke from Gregory Bourdy of France.

McIlroy finished two shots behind the wonderfully talented Italian on 14 under par and there are two ways of assessing his performance.

The optimists will commend McIlroy for getting straight back into the saddle following his Masters mauling and putting up such a gutsy performance. Most of us would have opted for a darkened room and pizza deliveries for a month had we been so brutally exposed in public in the final round of the Masters. Yet McIlroy once again proved that he is a special young man with oodles of raw talent.

The glass-half-empty brigade will point to another McIlroy failure to deliver the goods over the weekend for the umpteenth time in a professional career that is now 1,306 days old (3 years, six months and 29 days to be precise.)

Leading by two strokes overnight and with 27 holes to play on Sunday after a series of weather delays, the Holywood star extended his advantage to three when he resumed with a birdie on the par-five 10th hole.

But a double bogey five at the 15th, where he lipped out from around three feet, halted his momentum and a had to settle for a level par 72 left him one stroke behind Manassero and the Swede Alexander Noren entering the final round.

The unflappable Italian’s immaculate, third round 67 helped him leap from four behind McIlroy at halfway to one ahead. And he went on to deservedly clinch the title with a closing 68 that featured one bogey, three birdies and a tournament tilting eagle two at the 10th, where he holed a full nine-iron.

McIlroy made seven birdies, including a wonderful mini-charge of three in four holes from the 14th that allowed him go to the 634-yard 18th needing a birdie to force a play-off.

In the end he made a bogey six, going from the right to the left rough before putting off the green with his birdie attempt and then missing a par putt that would have seen him clinch joint second place with Bourdy.

The Irish star will regret many shots in the final round such as the fluffed third from the back of the par-five second, the nine foot birdie putt that lipped out at the fourth or the bogey six at the sixth where he flubbed a tough third from the downslope of a bunker into the sand in front of him.

He will especially regret the double bogey six at the 12th where he missed from inside three feet. But can take heart from the birdie run he produced near the end when running on fumes.

Given what happened at Augusta the previous Sunday, it was no surprise that mental and physical exhaustion finally took its toll and while McIlroy’s abilities as a closer - and his putting - will be questioned once more, he can walk away from this one with his head held high.

“It was a good week. I started off really well in the tournament. To shoot the scores that I did considering the travelling is a pretty good effort,” he said. “I’m disappointed with the result but everything else was positive. I’m proud of myself at how I picked myself up from last week.”

Losing to Manassero is no disgrace anyway.

While McIlroy won two of his first 76 events as a professional, Manassero has now won twice in 25 starts since he joined the ranks at the Italian Open just under a year ago.

McIlroy, up two places to seventh in the world today, knows the Italian is a special talent. But he could also learn a thing or two from a player who is nearly four years his junior.

While he outdrove the eventual winner by 28 yards on average (303.25 to 275.375 yards), McIlroy did not take advantage of his power.

He hit fewer fairways and played the par fives in four under par to the Italian’s eight under. Tellingly, he also had 125 putts to Manassero’s 118.

Manassero didn’t qualify for the Masters or receive an invitation from Augusta National this year. But he will be present at all the big shows for the remainder of 2011 after moving into the world’s top 50 for the first time.

This young pair will do battle for quite a few majors over the next 25 years and McIlroy knows it.

Paying tribute to the champion, McIlroy said: “Matteo is fantastic. He is a great talent – 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.”

McIlroy, no doubt, will get the break he deserves before too long. The question is, can he improve on the greens before his confidence begins to suffer.