ASIA ROLLS OUT BIG GUNS FOR ROYAL TROPHY


Asia’s big guns will be out in force for next month’s Royal Trophy showdown against Europe in Bangkok.

Spearheading the continent’s star-studded lineup are the top three finishers on the Asian Tour Order of Merit – Thai duo Thaworn Wiratchant and Thongchai Jaidee and India’s Jyoti Randhawa.

They are backed up by three of the top four players on the Japan Golf Tour’s 2005 money list – Japanese pair Yasuharu Imano and Keiichiro Fukabori and Korea’s SK Ho. Completing the eight-man Team are the Captain selections – Arjun Atwal of India and China’s Zhang Lian Wei, two of the biggest names in Asian golf.

The talent-packed lineup gives non-playing Captain Masahiro Kuramoto an awesome array of weapons to choose from as Asia look to triumph in the first-ever Royal Trophy Tournament.

“I’m delighted to finalize our Team, which I believe is a very strong lineup,” said Kuramoto, a legend of Japanese golf with 30 career victories to his name.

“The eight players have produced some terrific golf over the past 12 months, which is clearly reflected by their respective finishes on the Japanese and Asian money lists.

“All the players are proven champions and I’m confident we will put on a good show and challenge Europe for the Royal Trophy.”

The first ever continental team golf tournament played between Asia and Europe will take place at Amata Spring Country Club, Bangkok, from January 5-8, 2006. Each Team will be comprised of eight players, led by a non-playing captain and compete in a series of 16 matches involving foursomes, four-ball and singles. The Event has been sanctioned by the Asian, Japan and European Tours.

Europe’s Captain is Spanish golfing great Seve Ballesteros, the five-time Major winner who revolutionized the Ryder Cup in the 1980s with his commitment and charisma.

Ballesteros has already named four of his Team members – England’s David Howell, who held off Tiger Woods to win last month’s HSBC Champions Tournament in Shanghai; Irishman Paul McGinley – Europe’s 2002 Ryder Cup hero and winner of the European Tour’s season-ending Volvo Masters in October; and Ryder Cup veterans Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam.

England’s Faldo, a six-time Major winner, and Welshman Woosnam, the 1991 Masters champion, are both Captain selections.

With the Tournament being held in Thailand, the Asian Team has been given a huge boost with the inclusion of the country’s top two players, Thaworn and Thongchai.

Thaworn has just enjoyed a stunning year on the Asian Tour, winning an unprecedented four titles and breaking the season earnings record with US$510,122. He was also named Players’ Player of the Year at the Asian Tour’s Awards Night last Sunday.

Thongchai, the 2004 Order of Merit champion, finished second this year with earnings of US$454,335 despite only playing 13 tournaments as he split his time between Europe and Asia. Third-placed Randhawa was just as impressive, amassing US$329,835 from only 11 events. Imano, Fukabori and Ho all had stellar seasons on the ultra-competitive Japan Golf Tour, winning two titles each.

Kuramoto was particularly delighted with one of his Captain selections, Zhang, who made history in 2004 when he became the first Chinese player to tee up at the Masters, has five Asian Tour successes and match play victories over Colin Montgomerie and Nick Price to his credit.

Atwal, meanwhile, will appear in Bangkok after an excellent second season on the US PGA Tour in which he registered four top-10 finishes and missed just one cut in 17 starts.

Fans can also look forward to a master class on the Amata Spring greens from the Indian ace – he was the best putter on the PGA Tour this year with an astonishing average of 1.710, outranking superstars such as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

“Zhang is a wonderful match play competitor and has enjoyed a good year,” said Kuramoto.

“Atwal is another class act and his success in the United States is no surprise. The two wildcards in our team will no doubt lend more weight in our challenge to lift the first Royal Trophy.”

The eight Asian players have a combined 52 career victories on the Asian and Japanese Tours.

“This Asian Team is extremely strong;” said Lincoln Venancio, Managing Director of the Royal Trophy.

“Massy Kuramoto has been able to call upon the cream of talent from the Asian and Japanese Tours and his two Captain selections are also world-class players;” added Lincoln Venancio.

“Given the strength of the two teams, I think we are in for a fabulous first Royal Trophy and fans at Amata Spring can expect to see some truly spectacular golf;” concluded Venancio.

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