Young guns help Asia take slender lead; Lahiri, SSP lose
Kuala Lumpur, Jan 12 (PTI) Experienced golfers Anirban Lahiri and SSP Chawrasia failed to fire but young Asian stars sizzled as the Arjun Atwal-led team grabbed a historic opening day 3 to 2 lead over the star-studded European squad at the third EurAsia Cup here today.
In three editions of the event, this was the first time the Asians led after the opening day's fourball action. Asia trailed 0-5 in 2014 and 1 to 4 in 2016.
The 22-year-old emerging Chinese star, Li Haotong holed a final birdie to snatch a crucial half point alongside local Nicholas Fung against Europe's Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Bernd Wiesberger.
Earlier, the bunch of new faces in Asian team, including 18-year-old Phachara Khwongwatmai, the smiling and strapping Haotong, the 24-year-old Poom Saksansin and the highly articulate Asia No. 1 24-year-old Gavin Green, with their partners brought in a full point each.
Arjun Atwal said, "These youngster were just too good. My stars included all youngsters from Poom to Phachara to (Gavin) Green and yes LI (Haotong) who holed that great final putt to halve his match.
"Lahiri's record shows that he does not usually play badly two days running and I expect him and SSP to fight back tomorrow.
"As for the pairings for foursomes, the players are comfortable and they wanted to keep it the same as they did in practice. Anirban and SSP go out against Fleetwood and Stenson in the first match."
Europe had a shaky start to Friday's fourball matches, but rallied in the afternoon and even had a chance to head into the weekend on level terms. But in the day's final clash, Li held his nerve to win the 18th hole and halve the match against Rafa and Wiesberger.
Thomas Bjrn's men team found themselves behind in four matches and all square in the other two as Asia dominated in the early stages of the first day. Europe managed to turn the tide in the afternoon.
Tommy Fleetwood and Paul Casey put the first point on the board with a 4 & 3 victory over Byeong Hun An and Kiradech Aphibarnrat in match one.
The performance was so good that despite playing well the Asians were run over. The Asians did fight to get even at 10th, but after that the European simply flew past them as Fleetwood added an eagle on 11th after Casey had done likewise on third. They had seven other birdies.
Asia picked up two points in quick succession, with Yuta Ikeda and Gavin Green beating Thomas Pieters and Matthew Fitzpatrick 2 & 1 before Henrik Stenson and rookie Alex Levy were outplayed in-form Sunghoon Kang and Poom Saksansin 5 & 4.
Two down after 11, Pieters and Fitzpatrick levelled the match, thanks to birdies at the 12th and 14th. But Green turned it around in the closing holes, holing birdies at the 15th and 17th to clinch the point.
Kang and Saksansin led from start to finish as they stunned Ryder Cup stalwart Stenson, the highest ranked player at Glenmarie Golf and Country Club this week, and Alex Levy. The Asians were 5-up in seven holes and had eight birdies in first eight.
Englishmen Ross Fisher and Tyrrell Hatton put Europe back on level terms with a 5 and 4 win over Anirban Lahiri and SSP Chawrasia, as the two Indians were off-colour.
Birdies from Fisher as the sixth, eighth and ninth had the European pair three up at the turn, while Hatton fired two further birdies at the 11th and 14th to wrap up the point.
Alex Noren and Paul Dunne lost to Hideto Tanihara and Khongwatmai by two holes before Li and Nicholas Fung halved their match with Cabrera Bello and Wiesberger to hand Asia a one-point lead at the end of the opening day.
Cabrera-bello's amazing putting into the second nine saw the European pair go from two down to one up in the space of three holes. But despite leading by one at the 18th tee, Europe could not find a birdie at the last and had to settle for half a point.
On a wet day at the Glenmarie Golf and Country Club, it was Europe's top pairing, Tommy Fleetwood, Europe No. 1 and Paul Casey, who closed their match first with a authoritative 4 & 3 win that included an eagle each from Casey and Fleetwood and seven other birdies between them. Kiradech Aphinbarnrat and Byeong-Hun An, without playing poorly, were outplayed