Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that I’ve not been around for a while. In fact, this scribe has been out of action for so long, if you drag your hand across that picture byline down there, you’ll get a small accumulation of stoor on your fingers.

The last time I wrote about golf, the stovepipe hat was de rigueur and the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury was Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. Well, at least that’s how it feels.

Creaking open the old laptop again for the first time in about seven months was a bit like lifting up a fusty plant pot from a forgotten corner of the garden and disturbing a variety of slaters, worms and other wriggling, scurrying inhabitants of such dark, damp nooks and crannies.

Attempting to get the typing fingers going, meanwhile, was as clumsy, clanking and cumbersome as Frankenstein’s monster trying to change one of those fiddly, flush-mounted halogen spot lights.

Of course, your correspondent has not been completely idle during this prolonged period of lockdowns here, restrictions there and general tumult everywhere.

Entertaining my toddler son has been a delightful escape from the pandemonium of this pesky pandemic but, having watched and listened to his faither’s mood grow darker with a sense of muttering foreboding at the prospect of returning to work in recent days, I’m convinced that one of the boy's first fully structured spoken phrases will be “what the hell do I write for the Tuesday column?”.  

Anyway, it’s nice to be back, albeit on a more limited basis than before. As the sports editor reasoned, however, “less is more,” just as he began counting out my wages in IOUs.

For all and sundry, it’s been some auld year. Here we are in the depths of October and there’s still a Masters at Augusta to be played in November. There is also a final women’s major of the year, the US Open, to be held in December. Everything has been tossed and scattered like autumn leaves in a stiff breeze.

Last weekend’s Scottish Championship at the Fairmont St Andrews was the last of nine European Tour events staged around the British Isles in recent months. It’s the most on these shores for years and those at the Tour have worked wonderfully well to salvage a schedule from the wreckage of the Coronavirus-induced chaos. What a scunner the eager golfing public, particularly in some of those regional areas starved of top-level tournament golf, have not been able to savour them.

Next up on the European circuit is this week’s Italian Open. While Tiger Woods’ return to action on the PGA Tour in California after a month off will no doubt generate the usual fevered, if socially distanced, hoopla, those in golfing circles may just be quietly intrigued to see how the once majestic young Italian, Matteo Manassero, performs in his first European Tour event since he lost his card almost a year ago.

Professional golf is a brutal business where any fragility can be ruthlessly exposed. Manassero’s well-documented spiral of woe down the seasons has certainly highlighted that. Technical tweaks to find some extra distance led to more pain than gain while some deeper, personal lows have not helped in this game of extremely complicated, tangled demands.

It’s been a difficult descent to watch particularly when we think back to the carefree, charismatic and compelling way in which Manassero underlined his prodigious talents back in 2009 by romping to glory in the Amateur Championship as a 16-year-old. In 2010, he was the European Tour’s rookie of the year. By 2013 he had won four tour titles and was 25th in the world having made the kind of great leaps that Bob Beamon used to conjure.

By the end of a truly wretched 2019, however, he was 1333rd on the world rankings as he plunged the gloomy depths usually reserved for the deep sea lanternfish.

Out of darkness cometh light, however. If Manassero has something of a mountain to climb to get his career back on track then perhaps it was fitting that he got a timely morale booster a few weeks ago when he won on the third-tier Alps Tour. 

Prior to that event, he had missed 16 straight cuts in various tournaments. We all know how mind mangling this game can be. When confidence is as brittle as the Dead Sea Scrolls, golf can be an appalling, agonising trial. As the great Henry Cotton once observed: “If you think you cannot do it, there’s no chance you will.” 

Manassero has certainly been no stranger to a crisis of confidence in recent years but perhaps he’s getting the head screwed on again. In his next start after that victory, he managed a solid enough 25th place finish on the second-tier Challenge Tour.

Such was his rapid, rousing emergence as a teenager, Manassero never had to work his way through pro golf’s lower rungs but a few steps back may just help take his career forward. At just 27, he’s got plenty of time on his side.

The Italian Open was where Manassero made his debut as a pro 10 years ago. A decade on, we can only hope that the home comforts provide more hints of a second coming.