Olazabal seeks to cap magical year
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN (AFP) –
Jose Maria Olazabal is aiming to put the seal on a memorable year by leading Europe to a successful title defence at this week’s Royal Trophy in Brunei.
Less than three months after masterminding Europe’s Ryder Cup triumph, the Spaniard will play a central role in his continent’s bid to defeat a Naomichi “Joe” Ozaki-led Asian team at the Empire Hotel and Country Club from Friday.
In the sixth edition of the three-day matchplay contest, founded by the late Seve Ballesteros and with a similar format to the +Ryder Cup, Olazabal will act as a playing captain in a power-packed eight-man European team.
Olazabal said: “We have just triumphed in the first Ryder Cup since Seve left us, and it would be another fitting tribute if we could do the same thing at the Royal Trophy, a competition he did so much to establish.
“I want to do everything in my power to make that happen, and hopefully that will help me to produce some great golf — and make the right decisions on the course.”
Olazabal’s team mates are his fellow Spaniards Miguel Angel Jimenez and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Italian brothers Francesco and Edoardo Molinari, Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts, Germany’s Marcel Siem and Swede Henrik Stenson, who holed the winning putts in 2006 and 2010.
And after winning the Royal Trophy in four out of five previous editions, Europe are certain to start as favourites over the Jack Nicklaus-designed course at The Empire.
However, Asian captain Ozaki is confident his team will challenge for the trophy, which is being held outside Thailand for the first time.
Major-winner Y.E. Yang spearheads the team along with his South Korean compatriots Kim Kyung-Tae and Bae Sang-Moon, plus Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa and Yoshinori Fujimoto.
Completing the line-up are Indian veteran Jeev Milkha Singh, China’s Wu Ashun and Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand.
“I think this is the most formidable team we have put together so far,” Ozaki said. “It is a potent blend of experienced golfers, and others with truly enormous potential.
“It is also representative of how the standards are rising fast throughout the whole of Asia.”
Also helping the Asian cause will be China’s Liang Wenchong, who will act as non-playing vice-captain.
“All eight players have been chosen because they are winners,” Ozaki said.
“When I flew into Brunei with two of my players you could sense the anticipation building, and I know that excitement is shared by the rest of the team.
“I foresee another close match, and hopefully it will be our turn to celebrate victory.”