David Howell of England and Ireland’s Paul McGinley – respectively the winner of the first event on The 2006 European Tour International Schedule and the last tournament of the 2005 season – will spearhead the European challenge against Asia in the inaugural staging of golf’s new team contest - The Royal Trophy - at Amata Spring Country Club, Bangkok, Thailand, from January 7-8, 2006.
This new event, sanctioned by the European, Japan and Asian Tours and carrying a prize fund of US$1,500,000, will comprise a series of 16 matches over two days of play on Saturday and Sunday involving foursomes, fourball and singles.
The eight-man European Team, led by non-playing captain Seve Ballesteros of Spain, is completed by Thomas Björn of Denmark, England’s Kenneth Ferrie, Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, Swede Henrik Stenson and the two wildcard picks, Nick Faldo of England and Ian Woosnam of Wales.
Howell will return to the Far East in confident mood after beating World Number One Tiger Woods by three shots to win the HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai during November, an event which marked the start of The 2006 European Tour season. The victory moved the Englishman up to 13th place on the Official World Golf Ranking.
However, Howell’s successes, in common with McGinley, the winner of the 2005 Volvo Masters at Club de Golf Valderrama, have not been confined to individual golf. In September 2004, they both played a key role in Europe’s record-breaking 18 ½ – 9 ½ points victory over the Americans in the Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills, USA and in September 2005, alongside McDowell, were members of the Great Britain and Ireland side which won The Seve Trophy.
Completing the Ryder Cup connection are the men who have been chosen to captain the European Team in the next two matches. Woosnam will lead the side for The 36th Ryder Cup at The K Club, Straffan, Co. Kildare, Ireland, in September, while Faldo will fulfil the prestigious role at Valhalla Golf Club, Louisville, Kentucky, USA, in 2008. The Englishman also has the honour of holding the playing record for the competition with a total of 11 appearances.
“The pressure in team golf is unlike anything else in the sport: you are playing not only for yourself, but also your team, your continent and your fans,” said Ballesteros, Europe’s victorious Ryder Cup Captain in 1997. ““We have a very powerful European team. Nick and Ian bring tremendous experience while David and Paul are playing excellent golf right now and are both coming from winning big tournaments.”
For Björn, Ferrie, McDowell and Stenson, The Royal Trophy will provide them with the perfect opportunity to further hone their match play skills against the finest players in Asia as they chase a place in Woosnam’s Ryder Cup line-up for September.
Facing Ballesteros’s men will be a strong Asian team, assembled under the stewardship of Japan’s Masahiro Kuramoto, one of Asia’s most decorated golfers with 30 Japan Tour titles to his name.
Thai stalwarts Thaworn Wiratchant and Thongchai Jaidee, and India's Jyoti Randhawa, the top three finishers on the Asian Tour Order of Merit, earned their places in the Ryder Cup-style contest alongside Japan's Yasuharo Imano and Keiichiro Fukabori and Korea's Hur Suk-ho, who finished inside the top four of the Japan Golf Tour money ranking in its recent 2005 season.
India's Arjun Atwal, who enjoyed a memorable season on the US PGA Tour this year, and Chinese ace Zhang Lian-wei complete the strong eight-man line-up as Asian team captain Massy Kuramoto's picks. The eight Asian players have a combined 52 career victories on the Asian Tour and Japan Golf Tour.
"I believe we have a very strong line-up," said Kuramoto. "The eight players have produced some terrific golf over the past 12 months which is clearly reflected by their respective finishes on the Japan and Asian Tours Orders of Merit. All the players are proven champions and I am confident we will put on a good show and challenge Europe for The Royal Trophy."
The event is expected to attract massive galleries as Asian fans enjoy the first opportunity in history to cheer for their own Asian people in a major team sports event. The winning continent will be awarded stewardship over the Royal Trophy which has been donated by His Majesty the King of Thailand.
Thomas Björn (Den), Nick Faldo (Eng – Captain’s Pick), Kenneth Ferrie (Eng), David Howell (Eng), Graeme McDowell (N.Ire), Paul McGinley (Ire), Henrik Stenson (Swe), Ian Woosnam (Wal – Captain’s Pick). Non-playing captain: Severiano Ballesteros (Sp)
Thaworn Wiratchant (Tha), Thongchai Jaidee (Tha), Jyoti Randhawa (Ind), Yasuharo Imano (Jpn), Keiichiro Fukabori (Jpn), Hur Suk-ho (Kor), Arjun Atwal (Ind – Captain's Pick), Zhang Lian-wei (Chn – Captain's Pick): Non-playing captain: Masahiro Kuramoto (Jpn)