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Europe face stiff test in chase for Royal Trophy hat-trick

Still licking their wounds from last year's Ryder Cup defeat, Europe aim to mark their return to matchplay golf by completing a hat-trick of victories in this week's Royal Trophy against Asia.

The Europeans dominated the first two editions of the contest but Jose Maria Olazabal's side faces a stiffer test against an Asian team of 2008 tournament winners and former Order of Merit champions from the Japanese and Asian Tours.

Captain Naomichi "Joe" Ozaki considered quitting after Asia were trounced 12 1/2 - 3 1/2 in a lopsided 2007 contest but he now believes his team have a genuine chance of victory.

"That was my first time (as captain), but now I have experience," Ozaki told a news conference on Wednesday.

"It was so hard for the players to win a match. This time, we will show guts and spirit and play aggressively to beat the guys in front. That's what's important."

Olazabal makes his debut as captain in place of compatriot Seve Ballesteros, who underwent four brain operations at the end of last year.

He has retained three players from the 2007 edition, one of which is experienced Irishman Paul McGinley, who is unbeaten in all five of his appearances for Europe at the Royal Trophy and Ryder Cup.

Olazabal has also stuck with Swedes Johan Edfors and Niclas Fasth and gives debuts to promising rookie Pablo Larrazabal of Spain and Briton Oliver Wilson who lies second in the European Tour Race to Dubai standings.

"We will have a tough time ahead of us but I believe we will win this week," the captain said. "We respect the Asian team, every one of those players won tournaments last year, but we are confident of winning."

The contest takes place over three days at the Amata Springs Country Club in Chonburi and features foursomes, fourballs and singles.

McGinley will be playing in his third Royal Trophy and believes this week's edition will be the toughest so far.

"The last thing we will do is underestimate the Asians," he said. "If we're going to win, we'll have to play very very well."

Former Japan Tour champion Toru Taniguchi, however, hopes it will be third time lucky for the Asians and is already planning the team's victory celebration.

"Ozaki has selected some magnificent players," he said. "The last two times we have lost but this week, we want to be throwing Joe Ozaki into the lake in celebration."


Europe: Paul Lawrie (Britain), Niclas Fasth (Sweden), Oliver Wilson (Britain), Soren Hansen (Denmark), Johan Edfors (Sweden) Nick Dougherty (Britain) Paul McGinley (Ireland), Pablo Larrazabal (Spain)

Asia: Prayad Marksaeng (Thailand), Hideto Tanihara (Japan), Thongchai Jaidee (Thailand), Ryo Ishikawa (Japan), S.K. Ho (South Korea), Liang Wen-chong (China), Charlie Wi (South Korea), Toru Taniguchi (Japan).

January 8, 2009

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