A stunning fight back from Team Asia saw the inaugural EurAsia Cup presented by DRB-HICOM end in a 10-10 draw after a thrilling final day at the Glenmarie Golf and Country Club on Saturday.
Trailing 3-7 overnight going into the singles session – and having been 0-5 behind after the first day’s fourball session – not many gave Thongchai Jaidee’s team much realistic hope of turning matters around.
But they did just that, winning the session 7-3 to see the gleaming silver trophy shared at the end of the day with Miguel Angel Jiménez’s European troops.
Hailed as ‘The Ryder Cup of the East’ before the tournament started, the event certainly lived up to that lofty billing, producing drama of the kind normally reserved only for the biennial contest between Europe and the United States.
As well as capturing the imagination of the spectators on course and the millions watching on television around the world, the event also thrilled the Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak who, at the closing ceremony, announced the Malaysian Government’s support of the contest to return to the country in both 2016 and 2018.
In the end, the fate of the EurAsia Cup – with the score tied at 9 ½ - 9 ½ - laid in the hands of Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño and Hideto Tanihara of Japan, whose ding-dong battle saw them all square playing the last hole in the last match on the course.
With both players on the 18th green in two, Fernandez-Castaño putted down to four feet while Tanihara’s effort stopped a foot and a half from the hole. Under intense pressure, the Spaniard held his nerve to roll his par effort into the back of the cup before sportingly conceding the Japanese player’s putt.
“I'm happy the way I performed under pressure but I have to say that was the most nervous I’ve ever been,” said Fernandez-Castaño, a seven-time European Tour champion. “However you just need to look around you at what is going on here: This is big. This is going to be the next big thing in golf and I'm really proud of being part of the first edition.”
Opponent Tanihara agreed. “There is not really much match play played in Japan so as a result this was a really great experience for me and all the members of the Asian team,” said the 35-year-old. “It was fun being here but I must admit my heart rate was pretty high over those final few holes!”
Asian captain Thongchai – who got Asia off to the perfect start with a 3 & 2 win over 2010 U.S. Open Champion Graeme McDowell – echoed the sentiments.
“Every member of my team was a hero today,” he said. “Everyone played really well but the match itself was unbelievable. It was a great finish and to end the contest on the final holes in the final match, I’ve never seen anything like it. It was amazing.”
Opposite number Jiménez – who was one of only two outrights winners for Europe when he nervelessly holed an eight foot birdie putt on the final green to beat a luckless Malaysian home favourite Nicholas Fung in the first match – agreed.
“It was tough for us today but it was an amazing day of golf and the Asian team played very well,” he said. “All the European players gave everything they had and I have respect for them all – it was a pleasure to be here with them this week. As I said at the closing ceremony, nobody lost – we both won. For this to be the first edition of the EurAsia Cup that was excellent and I wish all the best for the future.”
With the captains’ points in the bag for their respective sides, the next hour on the golf course firmly belonged to the hosts as they threatened to repeat the ‘Miracle of Medinah’ where Europe came from four points down on the final day to clinch The 2012 Ryder Cup from the United States.
Respective wins for Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Kim Hyung-sung, Gaganjeet Bhullar and Anirban Lahiri over Thomas Björn, Pablo Larrazábal, Thorbjørn Olesen and Victor Dubuisson, allied to Prayad Marksaeng’s half point against Jamie Donaldson, saw the overall scores levelled at 8 ½ - 8 ½.
Bangladesh’s Siddikur Rahman then moved Asia ahead for the first time in the three days with a 4 & 3 win over Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher before Dutchman Joost Luiten held his nerve to hole a four footer for a winning par four against Koumei Oda of Japan to bring parity once again.
It left the outcome of the entire contest on the match between Fernandez-Castaño and Tanihara – the half point being a fitting conclusion.