A birdie at the last from Li Haotong saw Asia finish the opening day of the 2018 EurAsia Cup with a 3½-2½ lead at Glenmarie Golf & Country Club.
Thomas Bjørn’s men found themselves behind in four matches and all square in the other two as Asia dominated in the early stages of Friday’s fourball matches, but Europe managed to turn the tide on the back nine as putts began to fall in all over the course.
English duo Tommy Fleetwood and Paul Casey put the first point on the board with a 4 & 3 victory over Byeong Hun An and Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the opening match, the pair getting off to a flying start when they went two up courtesy of a birdie from Fleetwood at the first and Casey’s long-range eagle putt at the third.
The hosts then picked up two points in quick succession, with Yuta Ikeda and Gavin Green beating Belgium’s Thomas Pieters and England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick 2 & 1 before 2016 Open Champion Henrik Stenson and rookie Alex Levy fell to Sunghoon Kang and Poom Saksansin 5 & 4.
The Asian pair went five up inside seven holes after starting the day with eight straight birdies and despite some impressive scoring from Stenson and Levy, Kang and Saksansin cruised to victory.
Englishmen Ross Fisher and Tyrrell Hatton then put Europe back on level terms with a 5 & 4 win over Anirban Lahiri and S.S.P Chawrasia. Birdies from Fisher as the sixth, eighth and ninth had the European pair three up at the turn, while Hatton fired two further birdies at the 11th and 14th to wrap up the point.
After Alex Noren and Paul Dunne had lost to Hideto Tanihara and 18 year old Phachara Khongwatmai by two holes, Li Haotong and Nicholas Fung halved their match with Rafa Cabrera Bello and Bernd Wiesberger to hand Asia a one-point lead at the end of the opening day.
Thomas Bjørn – Team Europe Captain:
“I’ve been talking to the guys all week that expect them to come out firing. Expect them to be 100 per cent up for this and they are going to go out and play some good golf. We needed to be ready to play. When I look at the scoring in the groups, I feel like, yeah, a couple of guys might feel like they should have done better but in general, there was a lot of good golf from our side.
“The results speak for themselves on both sides. There’s some guys that played extremely good golf. You look at our top pairing today, quality all the way through. They are class, both of those boys. It was nice to see Paul (Casey) come back into the fold of European golf and go out and being determined at delivering a performance that’s just world class.
“I suspect that we’ll go out tomorrow and be ready to play, and foursomes is a very different game. We are looking forward to the challenge ahead, but we are in a position where we feel like we knew we could find ourselves in, and we knew this Asian team is very strong and very much ready to play.
“We were quite early in the week aware that we were going to make two different lineups for fourballs and foursomes, and I look at those foursome pairings that I put out tomorrow and I see some very qualified pairings. When players go out today and they play extremely well, that’s in fourballs. Their games match up different in foursomes.
“I learn something every second of the day when I’m a captain, but I don’t only do that here. I do that every day and I talk to a lot of people. Being captain is something that is a role that you take on and it’s a role that once they start playing golf, you realise that things are very much out of your hands. You can do all the preparation and put everything in place, but it’s for them to go and play the golf.”
Tommy Fleetwood: “We had a really good morning. It was great to be playing competitively again and it’s just a different atmosphere when you play on a team. There’s a bit more nerves to it because it’s not you; it’s the team that you’re playing for and just great to get that first point on the board.
“I’ve always said it for a long time since I came out on Tour, he was always in my top few players that I played with, potential wise and ability wise. He’s been one of the most consistent players in the world for a while, and it’s great to have him back, really. It was a pleasure for me to play with him today. We worked together well and got on well. He’s a massive asset.
“We’ve got work to do and we know where we stand. We had a good back nine overall. At one point we were up in no matches and down in four, and we’ve ended the day perfectly fine and okay, and I think that was the main positives coming out of the day.”
Ross Fisher: “We knew we had to be at our best. I slacked off on a couple of holes before Tyrrell stepped in when he needed to when I was out of a hole and vice versa. We dovetailed very well and I kept saying, let’s come on, finish this early so we can close this game out as soon as we possibly can, because you don’t want to give these guys hopefully more holes because you can tell walking off that 18th green that last game, they were right up for it.
“They had been playing all the way through the calendar year where our guys had a lot of time off. Maybe there’s a hint of rust in there for some of our players, but we’re right up for it and we want to go out and show Thomas we can play to our capabilities, and we not only want to win the trophy but we want to put in a proper good performance and win it convincingly like we did two years ago.
Paul Casey: “Trying to make sure I would make my debut back in Europe with style. Three years being away, I had to do something positive, and after getting a captain’s pick and then getting a Race to Dubai Champion as my partner, yeah, I had to get off to a flyer. So it was fantastic.
“We’re not underestimating this team by any means. We are taking this very seriously, so the score you see on the leaderboard right now is not through complacency. Clearly, they have played some amazing golf to be in this position.
“I love match play, especially when you have a partner like Tommy Fleetwood. What a blast, what great golf we played, but the Asians threw a lot at us. Ecstatic to get this going and get a point because it’s going to be a tough week.
Friday Fourball Results:
Match One: Tommy Fleetwood & Paul Casey 4&3 defeated Byeong Hun An & Kiradech Aphibarnrat
Match Two: Thomas Pieters & Matthew Fitzpatrick 2&1 defeated by Yuta Ikeda & Gavin Green
Match Three: Alex Noren & Paul Dunne 2 Holes defeated by Hideto Tanihara & Phachara Khongwatmai
Match Four: Henrik Stenson & Alexander Levy 5&4 defeated by Sunghoon Kang & Poom Saksansin
Match Five: Bernd Wiesberger & Rafa Cabrera Bello Match Halved Nicholas Fung & Li Haotong
Match Six: Ross Fisher & Tyrrell Hatton 5&4 defeated Anirban Lahiri & S.S.P. Chawrasia
Team Europe: 2½
Team Asia: 3½