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Asia edge Europe in Brunei after sudden death

Ozaki delight as Kim’s decisive putt downs Olazabal’s team in Royal Trophy

Image Credit: AFP
This handout picture released by the Entertainment Group and taken on December 16, 2012 shows the Asia Team players posing for a photo with the winners Royal Trophy (C) on day three of the Sixth Royal Trophy golf tournament between Asia and Europe at the Empire Hotel and Country Club in Bandar Seri Begawan.
Gulf News

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei: Asia burst European golf’s bubble with a stirring final-day charge on Sunday to claim victory after a thrilling sudden-death play-off in the sixth edition of Brunei’s Royal Trophy.

Naomichi ‘Joe’ Ozaki’s Asian team defied the odds by overturning a three-point opening-day deficit to force an 8-8 tie after the final round before South Korean Kim Kyung-tae delivered the knockout blow.

Kim holed a 16-foot birdie putt on the 18th green — the first extra hole — to spark scenes of jubilation among the Asian contingent at the Empire Hotel and Country Club.

“I’m so happy we made it,” said non-playing Asian captain Ozaki, whose team had lost four of the five previous Royal Trophy contests.

Less than three months after masterminding his continent’s Ryder Cup triumph in America, Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal was magnanimous in defeat.

“I said all week it would go to the wire — and it did,” he said. “There is no disgrace in defeat. It was a great match. Congratulations to Joe [Ozaki] and to the Asian team. They played very well.”

Trailing 4 1/2-3 1/2 at the start of the final day, Asia picked up 4.5 points out of a possible eight from the singles to tie the overall score at 8-8 in the event that was founded by the late Seve Ballesteros in 2006.

While Olazabal selected Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts and Italian Francesco Molinari to represent Europe in the play-off, Ozaki placed his faith in the South Korean duo of Kim and YE Yang.

Yang and Molinari both missed the green with their approach shots, leaving the stage clear for Kim and Colsaerts. Kim did not disappoint the galleries by making his birdie, but Colsaerts, from nine feet, was unable to emulate his opponent and the Royal Trophy returned to Asia for the first time since 2009.

It was a marvellous fightback from the Asians, who were outclassed 3 1/2-1/2 in the opening-day foursomes before storming into contention by winning the fourballs 3-1 on Saturday.

Europe suffered an early blow on Sunday when Olazabal, who played through the pain barrier on Saturday, withdrew with a neck injury. He was awarded a half-point along with Thai Kiradech Aphibarnrat, the unfortunate member of the Asian team who was stood down.

South Korean Bae Sang-Moon, originally drawn against Olazabal, instead faced Colsaerts in what became the first of seven matches.

Bae led for much of the front nine and it was not until Colsaerts snared a 40-foot eagle putt at 15 that the European edged in front, holding on for a one-up win.

The only other European winner was Swede Henrik Stenson, who beat Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa. Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano holed a breaking 14-foot right-to-left for birdie on the final green to square his contest with Kim and Edoardo Molinari came from three down to halve with China’s Wu Ashun.

For Asia, Yang saw off Francesco Molinari in the anchor match, while Japan’s Yoshinori Fujimoto and Indian Jeev Milkha Singh came from behind against German Marcel Siem and Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez respectively.