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Asia leads Europe in Royal Trophy

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CHONBURI, Thailand – Asia took a 2 1/2 to 1 1/2 lead over Europe in the Royal Trophy team competition on Friday after Japanese pair of Ryo Ishikawa and Koukei Oda rallied to beat European captain Colin Montgomerie and Pablo Martin.

Ishikawa, Japan’s 18-year-old rising star, and Oda were two down after three holes before storming back to win the foursomes 3-and-2.

Europe leveled for 1-1 when Swedish pair Robert Karlsson and Alexander Noren won 4-and-2 over an erratic Charlie Wie of South Korea and Liang Wenchong of China.

The third match, pitching Indian pair Gaganjeet Bhullar and Jeev Milkha Singh against Peter Hanson of Sweden and Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark, was squared. Singh sank a nervous five-foot putt on the final hole to square it.

Thai pair Prayad Marksaeng and Thongchai Jaidee maintained their lead all afternoon over Europe’s top pairing of Henrik Stenson of Sweden and Simon Dyson of England 3-and-1 to put Asia in a strong position to defend the title won in 2009.

The European pair carded six bogeys and just one birdie, and Prayad was honest enough to acknowledge he and Thongchai did not have to play great golf to win. They had three bogeys and a double themselves - but countered that with three birdies.

“When we made mistakes we were fortunate that the European team made mistakes too, and did not take advantage,” Thongchai said. “We did not feel we drove the ball particularly well and we were happy to have earned another important point for the Asian team.”

Montgomerie was also satisfied to come away from the day only one point down at Amata Spring Country Club.

“I’m delighted how we escaped through it today. At one stage it was 1-3 down , it was a big different from 2- 1/2 to 1- 1/2 ,” Montgomerie told reporters.

“All credits to the players for coming back, especially Peter Hanson and Soren Kjedlsen to get that half point which was vital,” he said. “A good putt of Jeev Milkha Singh to be honest, or else it would be all square throughout the day.”

Martin and Montgomerie got off to a good start but the match turned following a great tee shot by Oda on the eighth and a chip in for birdie by Ishikawa on the 9th.

“I was not trying for the hole, just to get it close,” Ishikawa said. “But Koumei and I talked about it later and we both agreed those two holes gave us the momentum to go on and win the match.”

Martin said he and Montgomerie perhaps pushed too hard in trying to claw back the deficit, only winning one hole for the remainder of the round.

“Its difficult not to take chances when you are a couple behind,” Martin said.

Kjedlsen acknowledged he felt the pressure to step up and gain some points for his team knowing they were down early.

“It was important to get something out of our game, because I looked at the board and we were down in three matches at one stage,” he said.

“We gave away three holes on the back nine, going bogey, double bogey, bogey and we showed a lot of character to come back from that,” he continued. “It was a real seesaw match. We hardly halved a hole after the sixth, but it was fun to play in, and I’m sure it was great to watch too.”

Asia won last year’s competition after losing to Europe in the first two editions of the event in 2006 and 2007.

The competition continues Saturday with a four-ball matches. Bhullar and Singh will begin proceedings against Montgomerie and fellow Briton Dyson, while Wie and Liang will take on Hanson and Kjeldsen.

Two winning pairs from Friday – Ishikawa and Oda against Karlsson and Noren – will set the stage for the crowd favorites Prayad and Thongchai against Stenson and Martin.