x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Foursomes performances propel Asia to Royal Trophy lead

Stunning bunker-shot birdie salvages point for Europe

Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee, left, and Kiradech Aphibarnrat celebrate after beating Scotsmen Paul Lawrie and Stephen Gallacher on the first day of the Royal Trophy on Friday. AFP Photo
Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee, left, and Kiradech Aphibarnrat celebrate after beating Scotsmen Paul Lawrie and Stephen Gallacher on the first day of the Royal Trophy on Friday. AFP Photo

GUANGZHOU, China // YE Yang’s Asia team produced a dominant foursomes performance to sweep into a 3-1 lead on the opening day of the seventh Royal Trophy.

Playing with style and spirit, the power-packed Asia line-up left Jose Maria Olazabal’s Europeans scrambling to keep up on Friday at the Dragon Lake Golf Club.

While South Korean Yang had reason to smile as his players lived up to the high expectations he had placed upon them in the build-up to the three-day contest, the Spaniard Olazabal was left to reflect on a day of disappointment.

“It was a bad day for us. We didn’t expect that start,” the former Ryder Cup-winning captain conceded. “Now we have to be spot on for the last two days – and that’s our goal. We have to play aggressively and go for it. We do not have much room to manoeuvre.”

Requiring 8.5 points to win and retain the title for Asia for the first time in Royal Trophy history, Yang warned his players against complacency heading into today’s fourball matches.

He said: “We just have to keep playing the same way. Most of our Asian team are playing very well at the moment. If we can keep up this form, I’m confident that we can win the Royal Trophy again.”

Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee and Kiradech Aphibarnrat set the tone by putting the first point on the board with a 5-and-3 thrashing of the Scotsmen Paul Lawrie and Stephen Gallacher in the opener.

Thongchai and Kiradech, the two highest-ranked Asian players, at 46th and 59th in the world, respectively, were four-up through six and they were never threatened. Kiradech completed the rout with a 35-foot eagle putt at 14.

Ryo Ishikawa and Hiroyuki Fujita extended the home team’s advantage with a 3-and-2 defeat of Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts and Austrian Bernd Wiesberger. The Japanese duo raced into a three-hole lead after four and comfortably held their big-hitting opponents at bay.

Behind them, Koreans KT Kim and Kim Hyung-sung combined to see off the challenge of Spaniard Alvaro Quiros and Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen, 4-and-2. The highlight was Kim Hyung-sung’s nine-iron hole-out from 150 yards for an eagle-two at the fourth.

The sole bright spot for Olazabal came in the final clash in which England’s David Howell and Scotland’s Marc Warren salvaged a point with a 2-and-1 success against China’s Liang Wenchong and Wu Ashun, ensuring the Europeans avoided a foursomes whitewash.

All square through seven holes, the turning point came at the par-five eighth where Warren holed out with a miraculous bunker shot from a plugged lie for a winning birdie. The Europeans won the next two holes and were able to ease home.

Warren said: “Playing an Asian team in Asia, there was always going to be an onslaught on the first day. We were just trying to get something on the board for Europe.”

sports@thenational.ae