Europe in Narrow Royal Trophy Win over Asia
Amata Spring, Bangkok (Thailand) – 10 Jan 2010 – Henrik Stenson showed all his class to prevent the Royal Trophy being decided by a sudden death play-off as the clash between Europe and Asia produced one of sport’s classic cliffhangers. No-one could have scripted a more dramatic climax than the one fought out by world number eight Stenson and Asian number one Thongchai Jaidee, at the end of three days of pulsating golf at the Amata Spring Country Club near Bangkok.
With Europe leading 8-7, but Thongchai one up on Stenson in the final match, there was everything still to play for as the players stood on the final tee. The crowds of more than 20,000 were held spellbound by the intensity of the competition, with Stenson recovering from three down to level the match before Thongchai’s winning birdie on the 17th revived the prospect of a sudden death shoot-out.
But super Swede Stenson had other ideas. With his Thai opponent out of position off the tee, Europe’s anchor man pounced. He left himself with a six-footer for par, while Thongchai was closer to 15 feet away for his four, after gouging his ball out of the rough and only just finding the green with a tricky third shot. Thongchai’s putt was willed towards the hole by the packed Asian galleries. But it stopped agonizingly short, in the jaws of the hole.
Stenson, who holed the winning putt against the same opponent in the inaugural Royal Trophy four years ago – as well as achieving that distinction in his Ryder Cup debut the same year – once more made no mistake. That meant he had won the hole, squared the match, and earned the precious half point that saw Europe edge home by the smallest possible margin, 8 1/2 – 7 1/2.
European player-captain Colin Montgomerie, a veteran of eight Ryder Cups, admitted he was as breathless with excitement as any of the spectators. He commented: “The Asian Captain, Joe Ozaki, and I said at the start of the week that the competition would be close, and how right we were.
“But I didn’t mean for it to be that close!
“It was only fitting that the fourth edition of the Royal Trophy should come down to the last match, the last putt, on the last green. We were fortunate that it was a European player who managed to make that particular putt for the win.
“I was probably looking at the scoreboards closer than my players, and it didn’t look good when we were down in five matches for a long time.
There were a couple of matches that needed to be turned round, and we managed that.
“I sent Robert Karlsson and Alexander Noren to the driving range to warm up for a play-off when the scores were tied at seven each, because that is the way it looked like turning out.”
Another spectator enthralled by the incredible finish was the Royal Trophy’s founder, Seve Ballesteros. He was following closely back home in Spain, where he is continuing his recovery from brain surgery 14 months ago.
Montgomerie added: “It was nice to get a telephone call from Seve on the 18th green. He rang to congratulate me on the success of the European Team, and I wished him good health. Let’s hope he can take over next year when this great Event is held again.
“I just want to say that I feel honored to have captained this Team of champions. We came here with a very strong Team, and it was an incredible competition.
“It shows that Seve’s vision is coming to fruition, and that this competition can only help the game of golf grow, especially here in Asia.
“I want to congratulate all my players. Everyone contributed at least a point, and that shows how well we performed as a team.
“This is a very important year for European golf, and this has been a good start for us. We have to build on this, looking towards the Ryder Cup in October.”
Montgomerie was another hero, maintaining his record of never having lost a singles match for Europe by nailing a long birdie putt at the last for a half after seeing Chinese opponent Liang Wen-chong sink a bomb for his own birdie a few second earlier.
Monty grinned: “I was slightly worried when I saw Liang hole for a birdie from about thirty feet on the last. But then I followed him in from around twenty feet, and a half a point was probably a fair result, as we had a great game.
“Asian golf has improved tremendously over the past ten years – and I’m sure in ten years’ time it will have improved even more”.
Stenson looked the coolest person on the course as he stood over his critical putt, despite feeling he was not really on top of his game. He explained: “I was three down after ten holes and I had to dig deep and really find something to make it even.
“I’m not playing that great at the moment, I’m struggling a bit, and I had to dig deep to make some putts and produce the shots we needed.
“It was a great competition for players and spectators alike. The Asian crowds were cheering their players all the way, and it was a great show everyone put on.”
Thongchai Jaidee handled the disappointment of failing to take the match into sudden death graciously. He commented: “I actually played very well – there were only about two holes that didn’t go according to plan.
“On 11 my grip slipped and my ball went in the water, but really it was the long putt he made on 15 that turned the match around. On 18 nothing could be done. I had a bad lie for the second shot, and tried to get up with a six iron, but it wasn’t easy. Then I had a tough third shot where I tried to get some loft from a tight lie, but it kicked away from the pin and left me a difficult putt.
“It is a tough hole, a difficult tee shot because it looks very narrow. But Henrik is a great player, and I am happy with the way I played most of the holes against him.
“He is very strong, and I have to say congratulations to him and the European Team. I have apologized to the Captain, but I did my best.”
Captain Ozaki admitted he could not have asked for any more from his players. They gave this powerful European team a massive scare before relinquishing the Trophy they claimed for the first time with a 10-6 triumph last year. He added: “Overall I was very happy and satisfied with the way my players played.
“Before Thongchai hit his putt on he last hole I had this lovely scenario in mind, where it went in the hole, all the hats went into the air, and he went back to the 18th tee with Ryo for the play-off. They were the two players we nominated for that.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t happen, but I was very pleased with the way we tried to come back from a point behind. We shared the singles against a very strong European Team, and that should not be forgotten.
“As I mentioned before, it does not happen in any other sport that Asia comes together to make one team to compete against another continent. This is a great Event, and we were able to prove to the Asian fans through this Royal Trophy that match play and team golf are so enjoyable.
“I want to congratulate the European players – but also my own team for making it such a close match. After each Royal Trophy I watch with interest to see how the players perform throughout the year, and I am sure this helps them to play better.
“Will I be back next year? I will wait to see if Seve asks me to come back.”
The Royal Trophy is held annually at the exclusive Amata Spring Country Club in Chonburi, Thailand. The Championship features a series of sixteen matches including the foursomes, four-ball and singles formats. The Principal Award for the winning Continent is stewardship of the perpetual solid-silver sixteen-kilogram Trophy, graciously donated by the world’s longest reigning Monarch – His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand.
The Royal Trophy Premier and Major Sponsors include Heineken, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), PTT, Sports Authority of Thailand and Siam Commercial Bank. The Championship is also supported by Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and Chonburi Provincial Government. For further Tournament information, please call +662 651 9499 or visit the official website www.TheRoyalTrophy.com. The Royal Trophy is promoted by Entertainment Group Limited and Amen Corner S.A.
Article and photos by (c) 2010 Bernard Metzger – WorldGolfDirectory.com