GUANGZHOU, CHINA // Former Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal is aiming to fill a void in his trophy cabinet by leading Europe to victory in this week’s Royal Trophy against an Asian team led by YE Yang.
Twice previously the Spaniard has been a losing captain in the matchplay contest that was founded by the late Seve Ballesteros.
It is a record Olazabal hopes to put straight when the seventh edition of the annual event tees off on Friday at the Dragon Lake Golf Club in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.
The two-times US Masters champion, who masterminded Europe’s stunning Ryder Cup triumph at Medinah last year, admitted the lack of a Royal Trophy win was a “blot on his record as a captain”.
“I serve notice to Asian captain YE Yang and his players that I do not intend to allow this state of affairs to continue,” he said.
“I take the captaincy very seriously and the Royal Trophy is very special to me because my dear friend Seve Ballesteros asked me to take over from him as the team leader in 2009.
“We all still mourn Seve’s passing two years ago. Wanting to fulfil his faith in me adds another dimension to my determination to emerge as a winner in the competition he dreamed up, and then brought to glorious fruition.”
However, Olazabal acknowledges it will not be easy to wrestle back the trophy, which Asia won for only the second time in Brunei last year.
“We are aware that this is a very strong Asian team — but I think you will see that so is ours,” Olazabal said.
The eight-man European line-up comprises Bernd Wiesberger of Austria, Danish player Thorbjorn Olesen, Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts, Englishman David Howell, Spaniard Alvaro Quiros and the Scottish trio of Paul Lawrie, Stephen Gallacher and Marc Warren.
“We have world-class players, Ryder Cup winners and players who have won tournaments all over the world,” Olazabal said.
Five of the European team are ranked in the world’s top 100. The highest-placed player in the Asian team is 46th-ranked Thai Thongchai Jaidee, who will spearhead Yang’s team.
Yang, Asia’s sole major winner following his victory at the 2009 PGA Championship, is confident Asia can retain the Royal Trophy for the first time, although he conceded that the late withdrawal of Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama through injury was a blow.
“I think we have one of the strongest and best balanced teams Asia has fielded so far,” he said. “There were so many players in contention that I decided I could not pick myself. I think we are formidable opponents for any team.”
In addition to Thongchai and his compatriot Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Yang is relying on his South Korean compatriots KT Kim and Kim Hyung-Sung, China’s Liang Wenchong and Wu Ashun and the Japanese duo of Ryo Ishikawa and Hiroyuki Fujita.
* Agence France-Presse