Scots to fore as Olazabal aims for upset

Royal Trophy captain angered by Asia. Picture: AP
Royal Trophy captain angered by Asia. Picture: AP
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SCOTTISH duo Paul Lawrie and Stephen Gallacher were being sent out to try and give Europe a fast start as angry captain Jose Maria Olazabal urged his players to turn the opening session in the Royal Trophy into the “stuff of nightmares” for opponents Asia in China.

Olazabal was furious after YE Yang, the Asian captain, and Zhang Lian-wei, his vice-captain, predicted their side would dominate today’s foursomes at Dragon Lake Golf Club in Guangzhou after seeing the pairings.

They included Lawrie and Gallacher, a successful pairing for Olazabal in the Seve Trophy earlier in the year, taking on Thai duo Thongchai Jaidee and Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the top match and Marc Warren, the third Scot in the team, joining forces with Dunhill Links champion David Howell against Liang Wen-chong and Wu Ashun in the anchor game.

“I believe we may win the session 3–1, although I accept that may be wishful thinking,” declared Yang before Zhang predicted a clean sweep for Asia, winners in a play-off three years ago following an 8-8 draw.

“I don’t know if you heard that,” said Olazabal as he turned to his watching players and asked if they had understood the Asian officials’ comments. “But captain Yang says we will lose 3–1 and vice-captain Zhang says it will be 4–0. Well, I think we had better turn that wishful thinking into the stuff of nightmares.”

The exchange certainly added spice to the three-day affair, and Olazabal, Europe’s winning Ryder Cup captain at Medinah last year, was confident that Lawrie and Gallacher could give his side the perfect start.

“The partnership gelled very well at the Seve Trophy recently and they are both very experienced golfers,” said the Spaniard. “They like to play fast and they are the right men to lead the team out.”

It is Lawrie’s second appear-ance in the event and the 44-year-old’s second royal appointment this month. A fortnight ago, the former Open champion was at Buckingham Palace to collect his OBE from Prince Charles for service to golf.

Since missing out on the European Tour’s season-ending event in Dubai, Lawrie has been hitting hundreds of balls at his Golf Centre on the outskirts of Aberdeen. He has also started to do some work with Stirling-based sports psychologist John Mathers and is hoping that being back in a team environment will see him sign off 2013 on an encouraging note.

“I would far rather do less well individually and be part of a winning team,” said the Aberdonian, a member of Olazabal’s triumphant team in Chicago, where he delivered one of the decisive last-day singles wins over Brandt Snedeker. “But I want both this week – to do my bit in full, and to get my hands on the trophy. That would be the ideal scenario.”

Gallacher, who is making his debut in an event that involved Seve Ballesteros as the European captain at the outset, added: “It would be marvellous to end the year on a high after my win in the Dubai Desert Classic and take the confidence a win would give me into such an important year as 2014 with the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles and all that means to the home players.”

Japanese pair Ryo Ishikawa and Hiroyuki Fujita face Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts and Austrian Bernd Wiesberger of Austria in the second match out while Korea’s KT Kim and HS Kim take on Spaniard Alvaro Quiros and Dane Thorbjorn Olesen.

“We are ready, and we are here to win,” declared Olazabal, though Yang insisted that was going to be difficult.

“I think we have one of the strongest and best balanced teams Asia has fielded so far,” Yang said. “There were so many players in contention that I decided I could not pick myself, and I think we are formidable opponents for any team. I think we have our best chance so far.”