Sat, Jan 13, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Last-gasp Li birdie helps Asia take EurAsia Cup lead

Reuters, KUALA LUMPUR

China’s Li Haotong yesterday held his nerve to birdie his final hole and give hosts Asia a slender lead over champions Europe on the opening day of the EurAsia Cup in Kuala Lumpur.

Paired with Malaysian Nicholas Fung, 22-year-old Li won the hole to halve the day’s final four-ball match against Spaniard Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Austrian Bernd Wiesberger as Asia opened up a 3-1/2 to 2-1/2 lead.

In 2016, a Europe team captained by Darren Clarke romped to an 18-1/2 to 5-1/2 blowout win over their Asia counterparts in the second edition of the two-yearly match play contest.

However, Thomas Bjorn’s side were far less convincing this time around, with Europe finding themselves down in four matches and even in the other two as Asia dominated the early stages of the first day at the Glenmarie Golf and Country Club.

Europe did manage to fight back as the rounds progressed, with the English pairing of Tommy Fleetwood and Paul Casey putting the team on the board with a 4 and 3 victory over South Korean An Byeong-un and Thai Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the first match.

“It feels great. I love match play, especially when you have a partner like Tommy Fleetwood,” said Casey, who was one of Bjorn’s two wild-card selections. “What a blast, what great golf we played, but the Asians threw a lot at us, as well.”

“I’m ecstatic to get this going and get a point, because it’s going to be a tough week,” he added.

Asia rallied to take the lead with Yuta Ikeda and Gavin Green beating Thomas Pieters and Matthew Fitzpatrick 2 and 1, before Poom Saksansin and Kang Sung-hoon defeated Henrik Stenson and Alex Levy 5 and 4.

Another English pairing, Ross Fisher and Tyrrell Hatton, then tied the scores with a 5 and 4 win over the Indian duo of Anirban Lahiri and S.S.P. Chawrasia.

However, Hideto Tanihara and 18-year-old Phachara Khongwatmai put Asia back in front with a 2-up victory over Alex Noren and Paul Dunne, leaving it to Cabrera-Bello and Wiesberger to ensure the champions headed into the weekend on level terms.

Cabrera-Bello’s immaculate putting saw the pair lead by one at the 18th tee, but they failed to match Asia’s birdie and had to settle for a half-point.

Bjorn is also to captain Europe in the Ryder Cup, which takes place in France in September, with the hosts looking to regain the trophy they lost to the US at Hazeltine in 2016.

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