MORNING GLORY FOR EUROPE IN ROYAL TROPHY


Bangkok , January 7: Europe powered into a two-point lead over Asia in The Royal Trophy on Saturday morning, thanks to a final hole victory by the Scandinavian pairing of Thomas Björn and Henrik Stenson.

Björn and Stenson, unbeaten in three matches together in last year’s Seve Trophy, kept the streak going at the sun-kissed Amata Spring Country Club after fighting back from one down with three to play against Asia’s Yasuharu Imano of Japan and Chinese ace Zhang Lian-wei to win the tie on the 18 th hole.

Zhang had an eight-foot birdie opportunity at the final hole for a halve but missed his attempt as Asia entered the afternoon fourball session 1-3 down despite the presence of huge crowds who flocked Amata Spring to cheer the home side.

Europe struck first blood in this historic match between Asia and Europe through the Irish partnership of Paul McGinley and Graeme McDowell. They enjoyed a convincing 4 and 3 win over the strong Indian pairing of Arjun Atwal and Jyoti Randhawa.

The English duo of David Howell and Kenneth Ferrie raced to three up after three with successive opening birdies. S K Ho of Korea and Japan ‘s Keiichiro Fukabori managed to hang on but the Europeans always had the upper hand in the top match, eventually claiming a point with a two hole victory on the final green.

Asia’s home heroes Thongchai Jaidee and Thaworn Wiratchant, the reigning Asian Tour number one, secured Asia ‘s point by demolishing Major champions Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam 6 & 5 in the anchor match.

Asian Captain Masahiro Kuramoto put up a brave front despite trailing the visitors. “We’re 3-1 down after the morning but it can change easily. It could have been 2-2. The difference is very minor. I am of course still very positive. I’m confident we can reverse it in the afternoon,” said Kuramoto.

Thongchai was pleased to scalp the two Ryder Cup stalwarts. “I putted really well. I made one-putts on the first three holes for birdies. It was good to put up a point for Asia . There were a lot of Thai people out there and it helped our game. I enjoyed playing with Thaworn (Wiratchant), just talking along as we played.”

Thaworn said: “It was a nice feeling to beat Nick (Faldo) and Ian (Woosnam). Thongchai putted very good. I didn’t hit my irons too close but he kept converting the chances. There are a lot of fans here which was nice to see.

Woosnam, who will captain Europe in the Ryder Cup in September, said: “We were just shocking on the greens really. We didn’t play that badly but they putted better than us. We were inside them the first few holes but they had eight single putts in as many holes. If they missed a couple and we holed a couple it would have been a different game but we couldn’t get it together.”

Four birdies on the front nine and a series of single putts by the Thai pair put them firmly in control as Faldo and Woosnam, reunited for the first time since the 1991 Ryder Cup, struggled to find their form.

Despite the defeat of one of his favoured pairings, European Captain Seve Ballesteros was delighted with his team’s performance, particularly with Björn and Stenson securing a 3-1 lead.

“The last match was very close and the last few holes on this golf course are very difficult,” said Ballesteros. “We know that foursomes is a very difficult format. But Henrik and Thomas managed to win the 16 th and 17 th to be one up and then it was very dramatic on the 18 th because of great play by the Asians. It was a great second shot to a very tough pin position to give themselves a chance of a half. But I’m pleased we managed to edge in front.”

Kuramoto made two changes to his pairings for the afternoon fourball matches, pairing his two Japanese players together and putting Zhang and Ho in the second match out.

“We wanted to make more dramatic changes but it’s too tight with the timing and we couldn’t do it. We could only do it with the pairs that we changed. Some of our players are doing well and some not too well and I think I have balanced it out a bit with the changes.”

“I will tell our players this afternoon that it was close in the morning and if we put our minds together we can turn it around,” said Kuramoto.

“It was a fantastic morning at the inaugural edition of the Royal Trophy. The spectators enjoyed spectacular team match-play golf;” said Lincoln Venancio, the Royal Trophy Managing Director.

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