Asia stormed closer to a famous victory over two-time champions Europe in the Royal Trophy team competition with three crushing wins in four matches yesterday.
Asia, looking for their first triumph in the continental clash, lead a struggling European team by 6.5 to 1.5 and need just two points from the final day’s eight singles to seal the win.
Europe, fielding a weaker side than in the two previous editions, failed to lift their games after losing the opening day’s foursomes 3-1, managing just a half point in the fourball matches at Amata Spring Country Club.
Asian captain Naomichi Joe Ozaki, who was on the end of a nine-point thrashing in the 2007 encounter, could not hide his delight.
“I am dancing,” he said. “I am very happy with the situation, especially the big margin [of the lead].”
Europe, eager for a third Royal Trophy title to lift the spirits of tournament creator and former captain Seve Ballesteros as he recovers from brain surgery, have a mountain to climb if they are to complete a hat-trick of victories.
A disconsolate European captain Jose Maria Olazabal, who was hoping to underline his credentials as a future Ryder Cup captain by securing the Royal Trophy, said that Asian players had improved markedly over the last couple of years.
“They are playing in the USPGA and European Tours and that has taken away the fear factor,” he said. “We have a very tough task ahead of us but we cannot stop believing..”
Thailand duo Thongchai Jaidee and Prayad Marksaeng, two of the hottest players in world golf, inflicted the second straight defeat on team golf specialist Paul McGinley of Ireland. The local heroes beat McGinley and young Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal 4 and 2. It was just the second time McGinley had tasted defeat in three Ryder Cup and three Royal Trophy appearances.
Former Asian No. 1 Liang Wenchong of China went on a birdie burst on the front nine to set up a 3 and 2 victory over the English duo of Nick Dougherty and Oliver Wilson. Liang hit four birdies in the first seven holes to go four up with partner Charlie Wi of Korea. Wilson and Dougherty clawed back three holes but back-to-back birdies sealed the win for Asia.
Hideto Tanihara and S.K. Ho of South Korea were never behind in their match against the out-of-sorts Swedish duo of Niclas Fasth and Johan Edfors. Ho wrapped up the points for the second day running with a par putt at the 17th hole for a 2 and 1 victory.
The only bright spot for Europe was a half point gained by Soren Hansen and Paul Lawrie of Scotland in the top match. Hansen and 1999 British Open champion Lawrie gained Europe’s only point on the opening day and they looked in control of their second encounter with Japanese teenage sensation Ryo Ishikawa and his countryman Toru Taniguchi.
They led by one hole from the eighth but Hansen and Taniguchi both made birdie putts on the final hole to half the exciting encounter.