Monty shows the way

Europe's skipper Colin Montgomerie paid glowing tributes to the Asian golfers after winning the Royal Trophy. “There is no doubt that Asian golf is far stronger than what it was four or five years ago. Once they become a bit more battle-hardened in team match-play, Asia really will be a handful for any European team,” he said. By Nandakumar Marar.

Colin Montgomerie, player-captain of Europe, chatted with his team-mates and inspired them to perform well at critical moments of the 5th Royal Trophy 2011 golf championship against Asia. Down 2-6 and going into the singles competition on the third day, Monty and his mates staged a thrilling come-from-behind victory (9-7) to retain the title at the magnificent Black Mountain golf course in Hua Hin, Thailand.

“Every one of my players contributed to our success in overturning an extremely daunting deficit and emerging with a fantastic victory,” said Monty.

Montgomerie also maintained his record of never losing a singles match in European colours by defeating South Korea's Kim Kyung-Tae, a Japan Order of Merit winner, 2 and 1. “I am a very proud captain and a very happy player after this win,” he said.

The three-day tournament, conceived by the Spanish great, Severiano Ballesteros, on the lines of the Ryder Cup to infuse golfing interest in Asia, and co-organised by the Sports Authority and the Tourism Authority of Thailand, pits Asia's best golfers against Europe's best in back-to-back contests involving Foursome, Four-ball and Singles formats. Pablo Martin, the Spanish golfer, sealed the victory for Europe with a shot that founder Ballesteros would be proud of. He played against India's Jeev Milkha Singh, who was drafted into the Asia squad because of his experience on the world circuit.

Martin's second shot struck a hospitality tent. He then managed a chip over the bunker as the ball landed 18 inches from the hole. The Spaniard then tapped in for a birdie and a one-up win over his rival.

“I heard people suggest my chip was the sort of shot Seve was famous for. It was much easier than many of the great shots he has hit. I had a perfect lie and it was up the hill and playing into the grain, so all in all, I just got really lucky,” said Martin.

Had Jeev won the 18th against Martin, Asia would have needed one point from the Thailand star, Thongchai Jaidee, to triumph, or half a point to force the competition into a sudden-death play-off. When Johan Edfors of Sweden and Jaidee appeared on the final tee in the last singles match-up, all three results — an Asian victory, a European win or sudden-death play-off — were possible.

Martin's victory put Europe in front and Edfors took off from there for a birdie and forced a half, thus escaping the embarrassment of defeat.

Montgomerie later referred to a chat he had with Edfors in the Singles to illustrate the importance of match-play experience, especially in make-or-break situations, for Asians not familiar with the format.

The Foursomes on the first day had ended 2-2, while the Four-ball saw an astonishing 4-0 score by Asia on day two. “I talked to Johan (Edfors) about his Jaidee match, where he was three up at the turn and then appeared to go into a bit of shell. It is always difficult to know what to do in those situations — do you keep playing aggressively or try to defend what you have got and let your opponent make mistakes? I felt Johan became a little defensive, and that helped Thongchai force a half, playing some outstanding golf. My point was that you should always think about what got you into that strong position in the first place and not be tempted to change your game.”

The Scot, whose role in Europe's triumph over America in the Ryder Cup is enshrined in golf history, added: “It is like football where a 1-0 or a 2-0 lead is not always a winning position. Get a bit further in front and you are really on top. My point is that you only appreciate that fully if you have actually been in that situation, and the Asian players are gaining that vital experience all the time. They will have learned a few lessons from this defeat that will serve them well in the future.

“There is no doubt that Asian golf is far stronger than what it was four or five years ago. Once they become a bit more battle-hardened in team match-play, Asia really will be a handful for any European team.”

Europe has now won four out of the five editions of the Royal Trophy, with the lone Asian success coming in 2009.

Recalling how Europe had also wasted a four-point lead in the 1999 Ryder Cup when America won the singles for a 14½-13½ triumph, Montgomerie said: “That ranks as my worst Ryder Cup experience. It was a horrible feeling to see such a big lead slip away, so I know how the Asian players will be feeling at the moment. The important thing is how they react to the defeat. We lost the first six matches, all by big margins, so that was very tough to take. We became even more determined and went on to win the next three Ryder Cups, two of them by record nine-point margins.”

He explained: “Everyone associated with the Asian team in the Royal Trophy 2011 will be feeling like it is the end of the world, but I can assure them it isn't. It is all about how you respond to setbacks like that, and if the Asian players grow stronger as a result of what they are going through, the feeling of despondency will soon be forgotten.

“They should recall how well they played to establish that 6-2 lead; they were simply unstoppable in Four-ball. Although a 7-1 margin in the Singles looks awful on paper, the result does not really reflect how close a lot of matches were this time. Half of the eight ties went down to the final hole. In each one of them Europe birdied, while Asia managed only one birdie. If that outcome had been reversed, Asia would have won, not us.”

Montgomerie's expression changed from a shell-shocked one on day two — due to Asia's clean sweep in Four-ball competition — to delight on day three following Europe's 7-1 score in Singles competition. “Two other matches were decided with winning birdies on the 17th, including my own game, so it really was a very fine line between triumph and despair,” he said.

Montgomerie was overjoyed about his second appearance in the Royal Trophy. He rated his first appearance in 2010 as an invaluable experience for the Ryder Cup where he was assigned the captaincy of Europe.

“My first time here was wonderful preparation for the Ryder Cup. I would love the opportunity to captain Europe here again next year and try to make it three in a row. I'm still unbeaten as European captain, although all three of my matches in charge have been incredibly tight and well-contested,” he said.

The endorsement for the Asia versus Europe team competition came from Montgomerie when he said: “I will speak to George O'Grady (head of the European Tour) about what a great event this is. I don't know what the politics of this situation are, but we will get this tournament (the Royal Trophy) sanctioned by the European Tour. It is only right that it should be. Even though the result went against Asia, the match can only help the growth of golf in this part of the world, just as Seve predicted it would. All credit to him for putting this together. The tournament has fantastic potential to grow into a really, big event and it deserves to be that way.”

The Scot admitted that he had rarely experienced first-hand such drama on the golf course. “We all said it was a glorious achievement for Europe to win five-and-a-half points out of six at the last Ryder Cup. It proved that you should never count a European team out in any situation. This comeback at Hua Hin ranks right up there alongside that as one of the greatest days in the history of European golf, especially when you consider that we were routed 4-0 in the Four-ball 24 hours earlier. To not lose a single match out of eight in the Singles is truly remarkable,” he said.

Montgomerie's inspired bunch on the Europe team were: Peter Hanson (Sweden), Pablo Martin (Spain), Rhys Davies (Wales), Johan Edfors, Hendrik Stenson, Fredrik Andersson (all Sweden), Matteo Manassero (Italy) and Thomas Bjorn (Denmark).

Asia, led by the non-playing captain Naomichi ‘Joe' Ozaki of Japan, comprised Thongchai Jaidee (Thailand), Jeev Milka Singh (India), Ryo Ishikawa, Shunsuke Sonoda and Yuta Ikeda (Japan), Kim Kyung-Tae and Noh Seung-Yul (South Korea) and Liang Wen-Chong (China).

THE SCORES

Foursome: Non Seung-Yul & Liang Wen-Chong (Asia) bt Hendrik Stenson & Johan Edfors (Europe) 3 and 2; Colin Montgomerie & Rhys Davies (Europe) bt Kim Kyung-Tae & Yuta Ikeda (Asia) 2 and 1; Shunsuke Sonada & Ryo Ishikawa (Asia) bt Matteo Manassero & Pablo Martin (Europe) 3 and 2; Peter Hanson & Frederik Andersson (Europe) bt Jeev Milka Singh & Thongchai Jaidee (Asia) 7 and 5.

Four-ball: Seung-Yul & Wen-Chong (Asia) bt Montgomerie & Davies (Europe) 5 and 4; Sonada & Ishikawa (Asia) bt Manassero & Martin (Europe) 3 and 2; Kyung-Tae & Jeev Milkha Singh (Asia) bt Stenson & Edfors (Europe) 1 up; Ikeda & Jaidee (Asia) bt Hanson & Andersson (Europe) 3 and 1.

Singles: Wen-Chong (Asia) lost to Hanson (Europe) 7 and 6; Seung-Yul (Asia) halved with Stenson (Europe); Ikeda (Asia) lost to Andersson (Europe) 2 and 1; Ishikawa (Asia) lost to Davies (Europe) 4 and 0; Sonada (Asia) lost to Manassero (Europe) 1 down; Kyung-Tae (Asia) lost to Montgomerie (Europe) 2 and 1; Jeev (Asia) lost to Martin (Europe) 1 down; Jaidee (Asia) halved with Edfors (Europe).