SUPER SWEDES ARE A DOMINANT FORCE


Henrik Stenson, firmly established as the joker in the European pack, had another piece of tongue-in-cheek advice for playing Captain Colin Montgomerie as he prepared for his fourth Royal Trophy appearance.

Former world number four Stenson somehow managed to keep a straight face as he announced: “I am going to ask Colin whether it would be possible to change the name of our Team – to Sweden and the rest of Europe!”

Super Swede Stenson was kidding, as befits a man who has earned a reputation as a notorious practical joker. His most celebrated stunt came at his Ryder Cup debut in 2006, when he asked his new European team-mates to write down their e-mail addresses for him – and handed them a pen that gave off a slight electric shock when they tried to use it.

That mischievous streak has also been in evidence at previous editions of the Royal Trophy. Stenson claiming the Swedish influence was so strong that they should one day move the Event to his birthplace – Gothenburg – and use ‘Swedish hurdy-gurdy’ as the official language of the European Team Room!

It may be difficult to know when Stenson is being serious, but there is no disputing the underlying message that Swedes have made an enormous impact in the annual Continental team match-play encounter between Asia and Europe.

Stenson himself was the first Scandinavian star to make his mark. He picked up a maximum three points as Europe claimed a 9-7 victory in the inaugural Royal Trophy in 2006, and claimed the distinction of holing the winning putt – a feat he was to repeat in his Ryder Cup debut later that year, and in the closely-fought 2010 Royal Trophy.

He modestly played down the first two legs of that unique hat-trick, but admitted there was a lot more pressure when he made the decisive putt the last time Asia and Europe met.

Stenson explained: “At the first Royal Trophy there was a lot less pressure – even though Asia mounted a tremendous fightback in the singles, and were threatening to overturn the big lead we had taken into the final session. I was fortunate enough to win my singles match against Thongchai Jaidee fairly comfortably, and I don’t think you can talk about significant pressure when you are holing a putt for a 5&4 victory.

“It was a similar story at my first Ryder Cup. We were cruising to a record-breaking 18 1/2 – 9 1/2 victory at the K Club, and the result was never in any doubt. Any one of three or four players could have made the winning putt. I just happened to win my singles at the right time, making victory a mathematical certainty.

“But it was very different at the 2010 Royal Trophy. Thongchai and I had a great battle in the final singles on the course, and of course the result hinged on the outcome of our match. The seven-foot putt I holed to earn a half – and prevent Thongchai tying the scores up at eight-all – was a real test of nerve, and I was delighted to have come through it.”

There was no need for such heroics when Stenson made his second Royal Trophy appearance in 2007 – alongside no fewer than three of his countrymen in Robert Karlsson, Johan Edfors, and Niclas Fasth. With Sweden supplying half of the European team, their famous blue and yellow flag was flying proudly in Thailand. And Stenson again emerged unbeaten in a runaway European triumph – securing two victories and a halve.

Edfors assumed the distinction of finishing as Europe’s leading points scorer that year, winning all three matches. Topping the points list was no mean feat, as that Team also included three men who have written their names large in the Ryder Cup history books – current world number one Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley – plus in-form English ace Anthony Wall.

But Edfors experienced the other side of the coin when he and Fasth returned to Thailand in 2009, bidding to help Europe complete a hat-trick of Royal Trophy victories. They teamed up in the Foursomes and the Four-balls but lost both matches to a fired-up Asian Team. Edfors salvaged some Swedish pride with a 5&4 success over S.K.Ho in the singles, but Fasth was on the receiving end of a 7&6 mauling from Japan’s Toru Taniguchi as Asia jubilantly celebrated a famous 10-6 victory.

Stenson’s final green heroics helped to wrest the Trophy out of Asia’s hands in 2010 as Europe scraped home, 8 1/2 – 7 1/2. And he enjoyed tremendous support from Karlsson, Alexander Noren and Peter Hanson as Sweden supplied half the European Team for a second time.

And of course Stenson and Hanson – one of the heroes of Europe’s 2010 Ryder Cup triumph at Celtic Manor – will be back in 2011, along with Edfors.

So Asia versus Sweden and the rest of Europe? It may not be as silly as it first sounds…..

“The Swedes continue to play a very important role in the European Team for the Royal Trophy;” stated Lincoln Venancio, the Royal Trophy Managing Director.

“They have produced a significant number of very strong players and seem to enjoy and thrive in the continental team match play format;” added Lincoln Venancio.

The Royal Trophy is organized by the Sponsors Authority of Thailand, the Prachuap Khirikhan Province, the Hua Hin Municipality and Entertainment and Sports Co., Ltd. The Championship is promoted internationally by Entertainment Group Limited.

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