Asia take surprise lead over Europe in EurAsia Cup
Kuala Lumpur - Asia got off to a stunning start to take a one point lead over their more fancied European opponents on Friday on the rain-soaked opening day of the EurAsia Cup in Malaysia.
The team, captained by Arjun Atwal of India, won three of the six fourball matches and halved their final game to take a 3 1/2 to 2 1/2 lead over the European side skippered by Thomas Bjorn.
It was the best ever start for an Asian side, who have never triumphed in the biennial, Ryder Cup-style match play tournament. Europe won the last one while the inaugural edition in 2014 ended in a tie.
China's Li Haotong won the biggest cheers of the day, with a dramatic birdie on his final hole that gave the Asian side their slender lead.
Atwal praised his 12-man team's positive start - but insisted it was not yet time to celebrate.
"It's a good start but I don't want to ever sound cocky with a team like Europe," he said.
Europe had taken an early lead, with Englishmen Tommy Fleetwood and Paul Casey defeating Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat and South Korea's An Byeong-Hun for a 4-3 win.
Race to Dubai champion Fleetwood fired a birdie and an eagle, while Casey shot an eagle.
But Team Asia drew level in the next match with South Korea's Kang Sung-Hoon and Thailand's Poom Saksansin winning 5-4 against Sweden's Henrik Stenson and Frenchman Alexander Levy.
They dominated throughout the match, with Kang firing birdies on the first two holes, and Poon scoring a birdie on the 14th.
Japan's Yuta Ikeda and local favourite Gavin Green extended Asia's advantage with a 2 to 1 triumph over Belgium's Thomas Pieters and England's Matthew Fitzpatrick.
English pair Ross Fisher and Tyrrell Hatton clawed back some ground for Team Europe with a win over Indian duo Anirban Lahiri and S.S.P Chawrasia, before Japan's Hideto Tanihara and Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai scored a two-hole triumph over Sweden's Alex Noren and Ireland's Paul Dunne.
The most spectacular moment of the day's play came in its closing moments when China's Li fired a last-gasp birdie to halve his match against Austria's Bernd Wiesberger and Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello, and put Team Asia in the lead.
Bjorn said he was not surprised at the result in the $4.8 million EurAsia Cup, which runs till Sunday at the Glenmarie Golf and Country Club near Kuala Lumpur.
"We knew this Asian team is very strong and very much ready to play," he told reporters.
Bjorn is also Europe's Ryder Cup captain, and the tournament is a chance for him to test players in a team environment before the showdown against the USA in Paris.
Despite his win, England's Casey said his opponents fought hard: "What great golf we played, but the Asians threw a lot at us."