Royal Trophy win gives Europe a fillip

COLIN Montgomerie highlighted the importance of Europe making a winning start to a Ryder Cup year as he led his continent to victory over Asia to reclaim the Royal Trophy.

The Scot, standing in for Seve Ballesteros as the Spaniard continues his recovery from brain surgery, assembled a team consisting of youth and experience for the tournament at Amata Spring Country Club as they looked to claim a third victory after losing 10-6 to Asia last year.

The hosts came out on top in the opening day's foursomes but Europe rallied in the four-balls event to take a one-point lead into yesterday's singles.

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A determined Asia were not going to relinquish the trophy lightly, however, and threatened to force a first-ever play-off at the tournament as they trailed by just one point with one match remaining.

But, after Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee bogeyed the last, Swede Henrik Stenson kept his cool to make par from seven feet to halve the match and secure an 8-7 win for Europe.

"It was an honour to captain the team," said Montgomerie. "We came here with a strong team and it was very, very close. All credit to my team for fighting. They all contributed at least a point out there this week and we did great.

"It is a very important year for European golf and this has been a good start for us and we hope to build on this throughout the year."

Montgomerie had opted to include himself as a player as well as captaining the team in order to get a closer look at potential picks for his Ryder Cup team in October. But the eight-time Order of Merit winner certainly played his part in the victory as he drew upon his vast experience of matchplay golf to keep his cool against Liang Wen-chong yesterday, matching the Chinese No1's birdie on the last to ensure the game finished all square.

Koumei Oda claimed an unexpected point for the hosts with a dominant 5&3 win over Alexander Noren before Jeev Milkha Singh defeated Sweden's Robert Karlsson 2&1.

But wins for Peter Hanson, Pablo Martin and Soren Kjeldsen meant it was down to the final match between Stenson and Thongchai to determine the outcome.

Stenson was three down after nine holes but the world No7 battled back to level matters with three holes remaining.

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However, a play-off seemed certain when Asia No1 Thongchai coolly sank a birdie putt from eight feet on the 17th to go one up. The Thai's putt for par on the last shaved the lip before Stenson holed from seven feet to make par and secure the victory for Europe.

The performance of his team will give Montgomerie reason to be optimistic for the coming year as he now focuses his attention on assessing potential picks for his team at Celtic Manor.

"I had seven potential clients here and we got on great," he said. "I think we on the European Tour do as it is like a big family. We travel together, stay in the same hotels together and obviously play together. I just happen to be leading this particularly fantastic group of young talent coming into the Ryder Cup.

"There are a number of great, talented golfers in Europe and for the first time I really feel that we have a fantastic wealth of talent and we have just witnessed that this week."


Charlie Wi (Asia) beat Simon Dyson (Europe) one hole

Liang Wenchong (Asia) halved with Colin Montgomerie (Europe)

Koumei Oda (Asia) beat Alexander Noren (Europe) 5 and 3

Jeev Milkha Singh (Asia) beat Robert Karlsson (Europe) 2 and 1

Pablo Martin (Europe) beat Prayad Marksaeng (Asia) 2 and 1

Peter Hansen (Europe) beat Ryo Ishikawa (Asia) 5 and 4

Soren Kjeldsen (Europe) beat Gaganjeet Bhullar (Asia) 2 and 1

Thongchai Jaidee (Asia) halved with Henrik Stenson (Europe)