Kuala Lumpur, March 26: Captains Thongchai Jaidee and Miguel Angel Jimenez have opted to lead their teams from the front in the opening fourball matches at the inaugural EurAsia Cup presented by DRB-HICOM starting on Thursday.
With every intention of striking the first blow for their respective teams, Thongchai will pair up with reigning Asian Tour number one Kiradech Aphibarnrat for Team Asia and will face Spaniard Jimenez and countryman Pablo Larrazabal for Team Europe in the top match at Glenmarie Golf and Country Club.
Danes Thomas Bjorn and Thorbjorn Olesen will face Japanese duo Koumei Oda and Hideto Tanihara in the second showdown, followed by the third fourball match between Frenchman Victor Dubuisson-Dutchman Joost Luiten and Thailand’s Prayad Marksaeng and Bangladeshi Siddikur Rahman.
India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar will step into battle with Anirban Lahiri where they will face Spaniard Gonzalo Fdez-Castano and Stephen Gallacher of Wales while Malaysia’s Nicholas Fung will team up with Korea’s Kim Hyung-sung against Graeme McDowell and Jamie Donaldson in what is poised to be a thrilling fifth and final fourball match for the home fans.
Thongchai, a three-time Asian Tour number one, hopes to inspire his team by winning his match with Kiradech. “I have to see every group, that’s the most important. Our team is ready to play. We’ll try to win some points but it’s difficult to tell. We’ll be trying our very best. We’ll have to do it for our team. We want to win the trophy.”
The veteran Thai believes all the fourball matches will be closely-fought affairs. “I think tomorrow, the match is very close. I think it will be a good chance for both teams. I think my team, I like them to be relaxed and have some fun and enjoy the tough games. If you play well, you win the trophy.”
Kiradech expects the top match to go the distance. “It will be a tight match. You know, Thongchai is in the top‑50 in the World Ranking and playing solid golf at the moment, so we have a lot of confidence to win the first match, the first point for the Asian team.”
Jimenez, a 20-time winner on the European Tour, hopes to land the first blow for his team. “It’s going to be a tough match. You know, Pablo and myself, we are playing well and we know how they are playing, and with Kiradech, they are playing very solid. I think to put myself in the first group, I can see how the rest of the groups are doing. Obviously Thongchai is thinking the same thing and we are face‑to‑face tomorrow. We will see, let the golf clubs do the talking tomorrow.”
The veteran Spaniard believes his European side will rise to the occasion and continue the continent’s success in team events where they are also the reigning Ryder Cup holders. “When you play a team event like this one, you know, like this EurAsia Cup, you play with a partner; you play for yourself; you play for your team; and you play for your continent. The pressure is different. When you miss a shot, it’s not only you, it’s about your family.”
Local hero Fung, a captain’s pick for Team Asia, could not contain his excitement after being drawn against Major winner McDowell and Donaldson, the current Race to Dubai number one.
Fung, 24, said: “When they announced the draw, I was so excited to play against G‑Mac and Donaldson. Kim has been playing well and I am feeling good. I want to thank Thongchai for putting me in the last match. He wanted to get the crowds to follow me on the last group.”
Kim, who finished second on the Japan Tour money list last year, is looking forward to partnering the Malaysian rising star. “We have never played or competed with each other, so I think tomorrow as we play 18 holes together, hopefully it will be shorter, but as we play 18 holes, we’ll mesh together and we’ll have a big combination. We’re looking forward to playing this match, and hopefully it’s a fun match and hopefully we’ll get it done in a very quick fashion.”
Lahiri believes Team Asia’s desire to trump Team Europe in the first showdown could give them the edge. “We are hungry to go out there and just to make a name for our country and continent. I wouldn’t be surprised if we win this trophy.”
Thursday’s Fourball Draw (Team Europe first)
8:40am: Miguel Angel JIMENEZ/Pablo LARRAZABAL vs Thongchai JAIDEE/ Kiradech APHIBARNRAT
8.55am: Thomas Bjorn/Thorbjorn OLESEN vs Koumei ODA/Hideto Tanihara
9.10am: Victor DUBUISSON/Joost LUITEN vs Prayad MARKSAENG/SIDDIKUR Rahman
9.25am: Gonzalo FDEZ-CASTANO/Stephen GALLACHER vs Gaganjeet BHULLAR/Anirban LAHIRI
9.40am: Graeme MCDOWELL/Jamie DONALDSON vs KIM Hyung-sung/Nicholas FUNG