Stenson spearheads European victory

Tournament: The Royal Trophy
Venue: Amata Spring CC, Bangkok
Winner: Europe

Europe have won the inaugural Royal Trophy – but not before they had to overcome a gallant fight-back by Asia in Sunday’s eight singles matches.
The vastly more experienced matchplayers from Europe were 6-2 ahead after Saturday’s four foursomes and fourballs in this abreviated Ryder Cup type conterst, but were shaken rigid at Amata Spring Country Club near Bangkok on Sunday by never say-die Asia and had to wait until the final match of the day to clinch the event 9-7.
Henrik Stenson proved the hero for Europe, deflating a buoyant and hopeful home crowd by thumping local favourite Thongchai Jaidee 5 and 4 in that crucual final mach to secure the vital point needed to take Europe over the finishing line.
Europe’s golfers, who had been told by captain Seve Ballesteros beforehand that he would not tolerate over-confidence, did their best, it seemed, to make a seemingly one-sided contest competitive again.
With David Howell going down by two holes to Yasuharu Imano in the first match, the result was on something of a knife-edge early on.
European nerves were settled a touch when Paul McGinley won the first point of the day in the second match, beating Chinese star Zhang Lian-wei 2 and 1.
And matters improved further when Ballesteros’ men moved to within half a point of victory with five games still in progress when Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell finally overcame the dogged resistance of India’s Jyoti Randhawa to win 3 and 2 in match three.
But despite Stenson being in total control of his match with Jaidee, having gone four up at the 12th, the rest of the European challenge had faltered badly at this stage.
Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Kenneth Ferrie and Thomas Bjorn were all losing as Asia pulled out all the stops in the hot, but blustery conditions.
Stenson, though, held his nerve at the 13th with a par, as Jaidee bogeyed, to move five up with five holes to play and put some confidence back into Europe’s Royal Trophy challenge.
The scoreline paints a closer picture than was actually the case, given the early resolution of Stenson’s match, but there is no doubt that Europe had to work harder for victory than had been anticipated after the first day’s play.
Other than Stenson, no European was anywhere near the top of his game as the Asian players, chastened after Saturday, dug in admirably.
If Zhang had managed to halve his match with McGinley, in a contest that had been nip and tuck all day, the tournament would still have been alive beyond mid-afternoon.
McGinley, indeed, had started slowly, falling to two behind early on and only going ahead for the first time with a birdie at the par three 14th.
With the destination of the trophy virtually assured by Stenson, Nick Faldo was the next player to finish in a 3 and 2 loss to Arjun Atwal, and after a round that included only two birdies, the veteran can have no complaints.
Bjorn’s comprehensive 4 and 3 hiding at the hands of Japan’s Keiichiro Fukabori came next.
Woosnam, up against Thaworn Wiratchant, one of his tormentors in Saturday’s foursomes when the rusty Welshman was unwisely teamed with an equally rusty fellow wildcard Faldo, was next to crash out, in this case by 2 and 1.
Finally, Ferrie’s 2 and 1 reverse to Korean SK Ho came in, but Stenson’s heroics at this stage were enough to ensure Europe would go on to celebrate victory and give Ballesteros his desired threesome of Ryder Cup, Seve Trophy and Royal Trophy.
Thongchai, the two-time Asian Tour number one, was cheered all the way by the huge crowds which swarmed over course, but on the day he had no answer to the power of Stenson as the Swede romped to a comfortable victory.
Like McDowell and McGinley, Stenson finished the week with a 100% record.
“Playing Thongchai was always going to be a tough match and I am pleased with the way I played,” said Stenson. “I turned it around on the 11th and 12th and 13th so won three straight holes there and it was done and dusted with five holes to go.”

Yasuharo Imano (Jpn) bt David Howell (Eng) 2-up
Zhang Lian-wei (Prc) lost to Paul McGinley (Ire) 2/1
Jyoti Randhawa (Ind) lost to Graeme McDowell (Nir) 3/2
Arjun Atwal (Ind) bt Nick Faldo (Eng) 3/2
Thaworn Wiratchant (Tha) bt Ian Woosnam (Wal) 2/1
SK Ho (Kor) bt Kenneth Ferrie (Eng) 2/1
Keiichiro Fukabori (Jpn) bt Thomas Bjorn (Den) 4/3
Thongchai Jaidee (Tha) lost to Henrik Stenson (Swe) 5/4
Saturday Morning’s Foursomes:
Asia 1 Europe 3

SK Ho (Kor)/Keiichiro Fukabori (Jpn) lost to David Howell (Eng)/Kenneth Ferrie (Eng) 2-up
Arjun Atwal (Ind)/Jyoti Randhawa (Ind) lost to Paul McGinley (Ire)/Graeme McDowell (Nir) 4/3
Yasuharu Imano (Jpn)/Zhang Lian-wei (Prc) lost to Thomas Bjorn (Den)?Henrik Stenson (Swe) 1-up
Thaworn Wiratchant (Tha)/Thongchai Jaidee (Tha) bt Nick Faldo (Eng)/Ian Woosnam (Wal) 6/5
Saturday Afternoon”s Fourballs:
Asia 1 Europe 3

Arjun Atwal (Ind)/Jyoti Randhawa (Ind) beat David Howell (Eng)/Kenneth Ferrie (Eng) 1-up
SK Ho (Kor)/Zhang Lian-wei (Prc) lost to Graeme McDowell (Nir)/Paul McGinley (Ire) 2/1
Thaworn Wiratchant (Tha)/Thongchai Jaidee (Tha) lost to Thomas Bjorn (Den)/Ian Woosnam (Wal) 3/2
Keiichiro Fukabori (Jpn)/Yasuharu Imano lost to Nick Faldo (Eng)/Henrik Stenson (Swe) 1-up