THONGCHAI IS A ROYAL WARRIOR


If the evidence of the four previous Royal Trophy Matches is anything to go by, Thai hero Thongchai Jaidee will be able to allow himself the luxury of an extra hour or two in bed on January 9.

That day has been set aside for the concluding round of singles in the next eagerly-anticipated Clash of the Continents between Asia and Europe, at the spectacular Black Mountain Golf Club in Hua Hin, Thailand. And Thongchai, fresh from extending his record number of Asia Tour victories to 13, has surely been earmarked once again for the anchor role in the Asian Team by Captain Naomichi ‘Joe’ Ozaki.

The triple Asian Tour Order of Merit champion has been in the final group in every one of the previous four editions of the Royal Trophy, acknowledging the fact that if the outcome goes right down to the wire, there is no better player in Asia to handle that responsibility.

He almost pulled off a remarkable victory for Asia in the 2010 Royal Trophy, when he was up against Henrik Stenson in the last match on the course. Asia was trailing 8-7, and needed a point from Thongchai – the darling of the packed galleries in his native country – to force a sudden death play-off.

As expected, Thongchai rose to the occasion against a far more experienced match play opponent. Stenson had previously holed the winning putt in the first Royal Trophy in 2006, repeated the feat in his Ryder Cup debut later that year, and went on to win the Accenture World Match Play title, competed for by the top 64 players in the world.

But willed on by the Asian supporters, Thongchai defied the form book to forge three up over the first ten holes. But Stenson called on all his experience to level the match with two holes to play – only for his opponent to seize back the initiative with a birdie at the tricky 17th hole, greeted by the biggest cheer heard at any Royal Trophy so far.

So it came down to the final pair on the final green – and Stenson holed a stomach-churning seven footer to snatch the hole, and clinch the half point that gave Europe a dramatic 8 1/2 – 7 1/2 victory. Thongchai insisted it felt like he had lost the Match, and apologized to Captain Ozaki and his team-mates.

But the Asian Captain and everyone else present knew Thongchai was being too hard on himself. Forcing an opponent of that quality to pull out all the stops was a brilliant effort, especially with both men playing under such enormous pressure. It was the sort of finish that makes team match play so irresistible, and Thongchai could so easily have sealed an unforgettable Asian victory against all the odds.

Asia’s talisman can certainly testify to the highs and lows of an Event that has quickly captured both the public imagination and a significant place on the golfing calendar. He has experienced plenty of ups and downs as the only player to appear in every Royal Trophy battle.

He had the honour of securing Asia’s first point in the new Competition when he teamed up with fellow Thai ace Thaworn Wiratchant to destroy Major champions Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam 6&5 in the opening round of Foursomes at the inaugural Royal Trophy in 2006.

And after being a member of the unfortunate Asian Team who were severely punished by a European side playing tremendously well in the second contest, he played a huge part is Asia’s first victory in 2009, winning all three of his matches. The Asian Team, learned a lot from that bitter 2007 experience, and spearheaded by Thongchai they have become a much more formidable and resolute unit.

Typically, Thongchai enjoyed a true ‘Battle Royal’ with Stenson in the 2010 match, as they faced each other on all three days. The Asian star struck the first blow by winning a point in the Foursomes, lost out in the Fourballs, and then traded blow for blow in that epic singles encounter, as the honours ended even.

And you can expect Thailand’s favourite golfer to be in the thick of the action again when the fifth Royal Trophy tees off on January 7 and to emerge refreshed and ready to produce more great golf when the Competition reaches its climax 48 hours later.

“Thongchai Jaidee has produced some terrific moments for golf fans at the Royal Trophy:” stated Lincoln Venancio, the Royal Trophy Managing Director.

“He has been a part of some critically important matches and has made an enormous contribution to the Asian Team;” concluded Lincoln Venancio.

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

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