EUROPE HOLDS OFF ASIA TO LIFT INAUGURAL ROYAL TROPHY


Bangkok , January 8: Europe withstood a spirited fightback from the Asian Team to lift the inaugural Royal Trophy 9-7 after a dramatic final day at Amata Spring Country Club on Sunday.

Swede Henrik Stenson secured the winning point, beating Thailand ‘s home hero Thongchai Jaidee 5 and 4 in the anchor match, after the Irish duo of Paul McGinley and Graeme McDowell put the first two points on the board for Europe.

For European Captain Seve Ballesteros, the win sealed a unique hat-trick as he has now led Europe to success in The Ryder Cup, The Seve Trophy and The Royal Trophy – which was played under a great atmosphere due to the presence of large galleries that numbered in the thousands.

“I am really very happy with the final score today,” said Ballesteros. “It has been a great two days of competition and the European Team played fantastic. The Asian Team also showed a tremendous game and sportsmanship.

“Congratulations to the Asian Team and its Captain Masahiro Kuramoto. On this occasion we had a little more luck but at the end of the day golf is the real champion. This event is just the start and I think we are making history here.”

After dominating the opening day’s exchanges in the foursomes and fourballs, Europe entered the final day’s singles with a comfortable 6-2 lead but victory was far from a formality as Asia threw everything at the European players in an effort to recover ground.

Europe needed only two and a half points to claim the Royal Trophy but at one point Asia was up in six matches, level in one and down in only one match. Europe rallied, with McGinley leading the way by coming back from two down against Zhang Lian-wei to win 2 and 1 after the Chinese ace found the watery grave with an errant tee shot on 17.

“I am obviously pleased I won my game but the most important thing was the team won. It was a tough game today and Zhang played great but fortunately I played well enough to beat him. I really enjoyed the week and it was nice to be part of a really strong team under a great captain,” said McGinley, best remembered for holing Europe ‘s winning putt in the 2002 Ryder Cup.

McDowell followed suit in bettering India ‘s Jyoti Randhawa 3 and 2 to ensure both Irishmen came away from the contest with three wins out of three. “I spoke to Seve as I came off the ninth and I had just lost two holes on the bounce to go back to one up,” said McDowell. “Seve said things weren’t looking too great on the golf course. I realised my match would be important and every point we put on the board was going to be big but I didn’t realise how close it was going to be in the end.”

With David Howell losing a closely fought tussle in the top match to Japan ‘s Yasuharu Imano on the final hole and Asia dominating the middle order, Stenson’s match became vital.

Thongchai, the two-time Asian Tour number one, was cheered all the way by the huge crowds which swarmed over the course but had no answer to the power of Stenson as the Swede romped to a comfortable victory. Like McDowell and McGinley, Stenson finished the week with a 100% record.

“Playing Thongchai was always going to be a tough match and I am pleased with the way I played,” said Stenson. “I turned it around on the 11 th, the 12 th and the 13 th – so I won three straight holes there and it was done and dusted with five holes to go.”

It was a brave effort from the Asian Team as red dominated the board as Arjun Atwal beat Nick Faldo 3 and 2, Thaworn Wiratchant defeated Ian Woosnam 2 and 1 and Keiichiro Fukabori overcame Thomas Bjorn 4 and 3. Kenneth Ferrie was also beaten 2 and 1 but by then Europe had already won the Royal Trophy.

“We won the singles today but the European team took the Trophy. Europe is a great team and so was the Asian Team,” said Kuramoto. “I was happy to see the boys fight back after yesterday. For a moment, it looked possible that we could upset Europe and our players grew in confidence. We proved today that we could compete,” added Kuramoto.

“It was a great match and a success for the tournament. I would like to see this match continue.”

The presence of his loyal supporters failed to fire Thongchai’s game as he struggled to find any rhythm. “It was disappointing for me. Henrik played very good and I made bogeys on three and four which wasn’t a good start. When Henrik eagled the 11th to extend his lead to three up, I didn’t have a chance to come back in my match,” said Thongchai.

Zhang, a captain’s pick, was hugely disappointed with his campaign which ended with three losses. “I’m really disappointed. I didn’t putt well all week and missed three short ones to lose holes to Paul. On 17, I just don’t know how I managed to find water from off the tee with a three wood. It was the second time I did that in three matches. I was hoping to get a half point for Asia from my match and I thought I had a chance until that mistake on 17.”

“This was a historic event which will be remembered for decades into the future. It is the beginning of a great sporting legacy for Asia and Europe;” said Lincoln Venancio, the Royal Trophy Managing Director.

“What we all witnessed at the golf course this weekend was sport at its best – a lot of passion, emotion and tremendous competitive spirit from both the Asian and European Teams;” added Lincoln Venancio.

The Royal Trophy - Europe vs Asia Golf Championship
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