South Korean duo Y. E. Yang and Kim Kyung-tae produced a gutsy late fightback to prevent a European whitewash on the opening day of the Royal Trophy in Brunei.
Two-down after 13 holes, the pair finished strongly to salvage a half point against Spaniards Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jose Maria Olazabal at the Empire Hotel and Country Club.
This prevented Naomichi “Joe” Ozaki’s Asia team from suffering the ignominy of losing all four foursomes to Europe.
However, they now go into today’s four-ball matches trailing 3.5 — 0.5 in the Ryder Cup-style event. Despite hitting his tee shot out of bounds at 18 to lose the hole and allow Asia to escape with a half-point, captain Olazabal was delighted with his team’s flying start.
“It’s a good solid start for us,” said Olazabal, who less than three months ago masterminded a famous European victory against the US in the Ryder Cup. “I’m disappointed how I played the 18th hole, but looking at the big picture I’m happy.”
Swede Henrik Stenson and Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano produced a spectacular birdie barrage to put the first point on the board for Europe with a crushing five and four win over Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa and Korean Bae Sang-moon. Combining perfectly, the European pair made no fewer than nine birdies, including four in a row after the turn, which their opponents were unable to match.
Stenson and Fernandez-Castano were eight-under-par when victory was secured on the 14th green. Shortly after, Italian brothers Edoardo and Francesco Molinari completed a two and one success against Japan’s Yoshinori Fujimoto and China’s Wu Ashun.
One-down through nine holes, the Molinaris struck a purple patch on the back nine to turn around their fortunes after the players had taken a two-hour break to observe the local Muslim prayer time.
German Marcel Siem and Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts also found themselves one-down after nine holes against Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and India’s Jeev Milkha Singh.
However, the Europeans won the 10th and 11th holes to ease ahead and duly maintained their advantage to claim their team’s third point, although it needed a brave par putt from Colsaerts for a half on 18 to clinch the win.
Attention then focused on the final match where a European bogey on 14 saw Yang and Kim reduce the deficit to one-down.
With a birdie at the long 15th they squared the match only for the Spaniards to regain the lead with a birdie of their own on 17.
Needing only to halve 18 to complete a 4-0 scoreline, Olazabal struck an uncharacteristically wild drive that drifted out of bounds and conceded the hole to leave Asia with just the merest glimmer of hope that they might regain the Royal Trophy.