Date: January 10, 2009

Asia gains early advantage

European captain Jose Maria Olazabal has kept faith in his pairings for Saturday&aposs critical four-balls despite falling 3-1 behind Asia after the opening foursomes at The Royal Trophy. Europe held the early advantage in all four matches but Paul Lawrie and Soren Hansen were the only partnership to emerge with a point as Joe Ozaki&aposs team prevailed in blustery conditions to lead by two going into the second day of the Ryder Cup-style matchplay event at Amata Spring Country Club near Bangkok. Spaniard Olazabal – deputising for his close friend and compatriot Seve Ballesteros, who is recovering from surgery on a brain tumour – has resisted the temptation to tinker, leaving Paul McGinley and Pablo Larrazabal, Nick Dougherty and Oliver Wilson and Niclas Fasth and Johan Edfors as partners for Saturday&aposs four-balls as Europe seek to get their bid for a third successive title back on track. “I believe in the boys,” said Olazabal. “They didn&apost play up to their standards today but they&aposre facing a tough challenge, a really tough challenge.” “There is no reason to change if I feel they are strong pairings – it&aposs as simple as that.” “If the players don&apost feel comfortable, they are free to say so, but so far everybody is happy.” Ballesteros led Europe to victory in the previous two tournaments, in 2006 and 2007, and Olazabal is seeking to extend the streak. Prior to the tournament, Olazabal stressed the Asian team were strong and winning would be a difficult proposition – and he is even more certain of the difficulty of the task that faces his side after falling behind on the opening day. “We knew before it was going to be tough but obviously, with this start, things are going to be quite difficult,” he added. “We&aposre going to have to play really, really well in the next couple of days in order to win this event.” McGinley suffered his first defeat in three appearances at The Royal Trophy playing alongside Larrazabal, who has vowed to bounce back on day two. The 25-year-old Spaniard, who hit the shot of the day with a 180-yard bunker shot on the par-five second to set up an eagle, said: “Tomorrow is a new day and we will have to go out there and attack and be very aggressive.” Blue dominated the scoreboard after the opening hour with Europe ahead in every contest, but the hosts overturned the early deficit on a topsy-turvy day. Successive birdies on holes 15 and 16 helped Lawrie and Hansen to a 2&1 triumph over Japanese duo Ryo Ishikawa and Toru Taniguchi as Europe drew first blood, but from then on Asia took control. Thai duo Thongchai Jaidee and Prayad Marksaeng – buoyed by a partisan following – romped to a 5&4 victory over Fasth and Edfors after five birdies in the opening eight holes. Larrazabal and McGinley led for much of their tie with China&aposs Liang Wen-chong and South Korea&aposs Charlie Wi but lost the final three holes. The bout between English duo Dougherty and Wilson and Japan&aposs Hideto Tanihara and SK Ho of South Korea also went to the 18th, but the Asian pair won the hole to claim a point. Ozaki, who oversaw Asia&aposs loss in 2007, was thrilled as his side took the ascendancy. “My players played really well,” the captain said. “I feel like I&aposm dreaming now, especially after my past experience at The Royal Trophy.” “I&aposm very happy. My players now have the confidence for the next two days after today&aposs good results.” Like Olazabal, Ozaki has retained the same partnerships for the four-balls. “I learned from Seve that he never changed his pairings when his team was doing well,” added the Japanese. “I think our players feel comfortable with today&aposs pairings and that&aposs why I&aposve kept them.” “Our motivation to win this year&aposs Royal Trophy is very strong.” Ishikawa and Taniguchi will bid to avenge their defeat when they meet Hansen and Lawrie for the second successive day, while Wi and Liang will take on Dougherty and Wilson in the second four-balls encounter. Tanihara and Ho will meet Fasth and Edfors, while Thai duo Prayad and Thongchai will play Larrazabal and McGinley. Asia lead Europe 3-1 Hansen & Lawrie (Europe) def. Ishikawa & Taniguchi (Asia) 2 & 1 Wi & Lang (Asia) def. McGinley & Larrazabal (Europe) 2 up Tanihara & Ho (Asia) def. Dougherty & Wilson (Europe) 1 up Jaidee & Marksaeng (Asia) def. Fasth & Edfors (Europe) 5 & 4