European Captain Olazabal Oozing Confidence
Brunei (December 10): Jose Maria Olazabal has finalised a fearsome-looking Royal Trophy line-up which features six players with Ryder Cup experience – all of them having performed remarkable feats for Europe at the biannual showdown.
The experienced duo chosen by European captain Olazábal, the man who masterminded the astonishing comeback victory at Medinah in September, are Miguel Angel Jimenez and Henrik Stenson.
Stenson’s inclusion must have brought a groan from Asian captain Naomichi ‘Joe’ Ozaki – the Swedish star has played in four previous Royal Trophy Matches, and finished on the winning side every time. And to make matters more dramatic, the Gothenburg native clinched the European victory in 2006 and 2010 – holing the winning putt in both high pressure occasions.
Jimenez is the European Tour’s most winning player at tournaments held in Asia, has played at the World Cup for his native Spain 13 times and played and vice captained at six Ryder Cups. Furthering Ozaki’s worries, both Stenson and Jimenez have won European Tour tournament titles over the past month – demonstrating that they will be arriving at The Empire Hotel & Country Club in top form.
Edoardo and Francesco Molinari represent a dream pair for the European team. Both have Ryder Cup experience, as a team they have won the World Cup of Golf for Italy in 2009 – demonstrating their capability to deliver magnificent foursomes and four-ball golf and, as brothers who grew up together on the golf course, they have the ability to communicate, strategise and magnify each other’s strengths in a manner that is rare.
Nicolas Colsaerts is another player who would trouble Ozaki’s planning and confidence greatly – the 20-year-old Belgian delivered the greatest debut in Ryder Cup history this past September winning a most critical point for Europe under the toughest circumstances. The Brussels resident is 188 cm tall and was the longest hitter of all players partaking in the latest edition of the Ryder Cup – averaging almost 318 yards per drive. Colsaerts length off the tee has the potential to give him a significant advantage on The Empire Hotel & Country Club’s par-five holes, where he is almost certain to have an opportunity to reach the greens in two strokes.
Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and German Marcel Siem are both in fantastic form – Castano claiming the Italian Open title and Siem winning the Open de France this year.
Olazabal as a playing captain is another factor that will give the youngest of the three-brother Ozaki Japanese golf dynasty plenty to consider.
However, Stenson cautioned his team-mates not to under-estimate the challenge they face from Ozaki’s powerful Asian team. He said: “The last two Royal Trophy matches I have played in were incredibly close, hard-fought affairs and they could easily have finished in victory for the Asian team.
“Maybe the fact that we have gained more experience of all-or-nothing situations from playing in the Ryder Cup tipped the balance our way, and that was something you saw again at Medinah. But the Asian players are gaining in confidence and experience all the time. I missed their victory in 2009, the only time I did not feature in the Royal Trophy – but after the cliff-hangers in 2010 and 2011 I do wonder how much longer I can maintain my unbeaten record.
“I will be telling the rest of the European team we are in for a real fight. And I will be urging them to try to avoid putting ourselves in the same situation as last year, when we trailed 6-2 going into the singles. Our performance to win that final session 7-1 was one of European golf’s finest days. But the Asian players will still be hurting from that experience, and will probably be even more fired-up than usual.”
Olazabal is clearly aware of how potent the Asian threat is and admits he wanted to assemble the strongest available line-up to avoid the same fate as three years ago, when he was captain of the vanquished European team.
He said: “We are fortunate that we have tremendous strength and depth in Europe. I wanted players who are battle-hardened and players who are currently playing their very best golf. Miguel is one of the most experienced players on the European Tour. Henrik is a great match play performer, someone who has won the World Match Play title as well as holing the winning putts in his Ryder Cup debut and in the Royal Trophy in 2006 and 2010. He is terrific under pressure.
“Gonzalo and Marcel are two players who have really come to the fore over the past few years, and they both won tournament titles this year. I really like the look of my team for Brunei – but I also believe Joe Ozaki has brought together a very strong Asian Team. I expect it to be a great contest.”