It’s not quite the Ryder Cup but if the Royal Trophy continues to produce the level of excitement as it did in its sixth installment, the biennial meeting golf match between Europe and Asia may become a big deal sporting event.
In a stunning comeback, Asia overcame a sizeable deficit by the end of the final day and went on to win the playoff thanks to a decisive putt from South Korea’s Kim Kyung-tae. It was only the second defeat for the Europeans with the other setback coming in 2009.
"I am so proud of all my players, but especially K.T. Kim. It was a great Royal Trophy and a great way to finish," said Asia captain Naomichi ‘Joe’ Ozaki said during the presentation ceremony.
The Japanese veteran celebrated with a bit of Gangnam style. He took responsibility for the terrible final day in the previous edition when Asia led 6-2 heading into the final day and then lost all but one of the eight contests.
The tournament was the brainchild of Seve Ballesteros. The Spanish legend saw the competition as a way to help spur the growth of the game on the world’s biggest continent. He was also the captain of Europe in the first two editions, winning both times.
It is modeled on the Ryder Cup, a biennial competition between European and American golfers. Over three days, the two teams do battle on the greens, sometimes in pairs and sometimes singles with each “victory” earning a point for the team. Win over half of the points and the trophy is there.
2012 is the first time that it has been held outside Thailand, taking place in Brunei and the Asian team initially struggled with the new course.
Of the four contests taking place, Europe won the first three and looked set for the fourth but the Korean duo of Y.E.Yang and Kim Kyung-tae fought back from two holes down with five to go to split the point with the Europeans.
This only meant that Asia had a half a point to Europe’s 3.5 but this effectively meant the Asian team was only behind by three points rather than four.
This proved consequential as Asia was able to narrow the gap to just one point by the end of the second day. It tied the competition in Sunday’s final round.
The team’s fate was left in the hands of K.T. Kim an d Y.E.Yang in the playoff round. In the end the Asian team emerged victorious when Kim sank the final putt from eight feet and Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts missed his own.
It marked a rare defeat for Europe and captain Jose Maria Olazabal, who had to withdraw from his round on the final day due to neck injury.
"You saw how close this match was by the fact six of the seven singles matches came down to the final hole," Olazabal said. "The margins between victory and defeat are tiny and I have told my players I am very proud of them and they should leave with their heads held high."
Asian golf certainly is certainly walking with a new swagger after the important victory.