Seve Ballesteros has his sights set on a notable hat-trick as he looks to follow his successes of leading Europe to victory in The Ryder Cup and the Seve Trophy by masterminding a European triumph in the inaugural Royal Trophy this weekend.
The Royal Trophy pits Europe against Asia for the first time in team competition with the Spaniard captaining an impressive eight-man line-up against a team led by Japan’s Masahiro Kuramoto at Amata Spring Country Club in Bangkok, Thailand, from January 7-8.
In 1997 Ballesteros led Europe to a stunning victory in The Ryder Cup at Valderrama and three years later repeated that success in the Seve Trophy when Continental Europe defeated Great Britain and Ireland at Sunningdale.
“I don’t want to break my record,” said Ballesteros. “I won The Ryder Cup as captain, I won the Seve Trophy as captain and now I want to win The Royal Trophy as captain.We have the best possible team that we can have for Europe and I’m looking forward to facing the Asian team.”
England’s David Howell, who overcame Tiger Woods to win the HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai at the start of the 2006 season, and Paul McGinley of Ireland, who won the last event of the 2005 season when he captured the Volvo Masters, spearhead the European challenge.
“It’s going to be a big event and there is no better way to start the year than to get right in the thick of it and try and win this tournament,” said Ryder Cup player Howell. “Any time you play a team competition whether it is for Europe or for Britain you really want to win and if we don’t take that trophy home with us we’ll be very disappointed.”
McGinley has enjoyed plenty of team success in his career, winning the World Cup for Ireland in 1997 alongside Padraig Harrington before holing the winning putt in The 2002 Ryder Cup at The De Vere Belfry. McGinley also played alongside Howell in the record-breaking 2004 European Ryder Cup team and has twice been on a winning Great Britain and Ireland side in the Seve Trophy. But this week he will be in a team captained by his childhood hero, Ballesteros, for the first time.
“The big honour for me is to play in a team captained by Seve,” said McGinley. “As I grew up Seve was my hero and to be in a team with him and also Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam is a big thrill for me. To be part of a European team with these three players in particular is a huge incentive for me.”
The European Team is completed by Thomas Björn of Denmark, England’s Kenneth Ferrie, Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, Swede Henrik Stenson and the two wildcard picks, Faldo of England and Woosnam of Wales. But if Europe are to win they will have to overcome a strong Asian team playing with home advantage.
"Our players come from Japan, India, China, Korea and Thailand and although there is a language barrier, we feel that our mind is as one and we have the same goal which is to win this tournament. We are confident we can beat the European Team," said Kuramoto, a winner of 30 tournaments in Japan.
Kuramoto will be counting on a team brimming with confidence after successful seasons on the Asian Tour and the Japan Golf Tour.
Thaworn Wiratchant, Thongchai Jaidee and Jyoti Randhawa, the top three players on the Asian Tour last season, Yasuharu Imano, Keiichiro Fukabori and SK Ho, who finished inside the top-five on the Japan Tour money list in 2005 and captain's picks Arjun Atwal and Zhang Lian-wei make up a solid Asian line-up.
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.