Europe Off to Strong Start at Royal Trophy

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BANGKOK, Thailand -- A confident Europe side made a dominating start to its Royal Trophy defense Friday, winning the foursomes portion of the team tournament to take a 3 1/2 to 1/2 lead over Asia on the first day at the Amata Spring Country Club.

The scorching heat failed to benefit Joe Ozaki's Asian side, while strong winds only aided Europe captain Seve Ballesteros' players.

'I'm happy that our team lead 3 1/2 to 1/2 instead of 3 to 1 like I expected,' said Ballesteros. 'But I still have respect for the Asian team, which is capable of fighting back tomorrow in the fourball, which is unpredictable.'

The Ryder Cup pair of Darren Clarke of Ireland and Englishman Lee Westwood lead S.K. Ho of South Korea and Toru Taniguchi of Japan all day before winning 4 and 3 to give Europe its first point.

The Europeans took their second point when Swedish duo Johan Edfors and Henrik Stenson of Sweden, who shot a bogey-free day, outclassed local Royal Trophy rookie Prom Meesawat and Japan's Tetsuji Hiratsuka 6 and 5.

The Asian's best chance came from Asian Tour Order of Merit winner Jeev Milkha Singh of India and South Korea's Y.E. Yang, who finished all square with Anthony Wall of England and Paul McGinley of Ireland to gain a half point.

Niclas Fasth and Robert Karlsson of Sweden beat Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee and Thaworn Wiratchant 3 and 1 after the Europeans sank birdies putts on the 16th and 17th holes.

'Obviously the Asian team lacks experience,' said Ballesteros, who steered Europe to a 9-7 victory in the inaugural edition of the Royal Trophy 12 months ago. 'My team has played the Ryder Cup and the Royal Trophy last year which has given them more experience.'

Asia needs at least a win in Saturday's fourball competition to keep alive any chance of winning the Royal Trophy.

Ozaki announced a reshuffle in his lineup for the fourball to pair long drivers with short game players, despite concerns over the language barrier faced by his team of players from four countries.

'Normally players from the same country will be paired together, but I would like to mix them up. I asked the players already and they are OK with it. I just want to stick to this plan and prove that it will work tomorrow.'

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