Europe and Asia have been competing Ryder Cup-style since 2006, But in 2014 the match was re-born as the EurAsia Cup, at which point the Royal Trophy, which had taken in seven matches, became redundant, an evolution that provoked acrimony between the tours and Royal Trophy organisers two years ago.
The rancour of that first edition looks to have simmered down ahead of this year’s match in Malaysia but golfing politics continue to be a factor since it was reported last week that the match will host behind-the-scenes negotiations regarding the future merger of the two tours, which was first mooted last summer. The stumbling block appears to be a core of Asian players who believe the deal is not as straightforward as they were first led to believe.
“The EurAsia Cup is very important in preparation for a Ryder Cup,” McGinley said, post-victory in Gleneagles. “For example, I learned about the Graeme McDowell and Victor Dubuisson partnership. That solidified itself there. That was a very important partnership.”
It’s worth pointing out that we’re taking McGinley’s word for this since McDowell and Dubuisson didn’t actually play together at the EurAsia in 2014. Perhaps the potential for a partnership was spotted. Whatever, Clarke will be on the lookout for pointers of his own.
For his opposite number, Jeev Milkha Singh, there will be determination to maintain the thrust of the 2014 fightback which earned Asia a tie and maybe the politics will impact on his team - perhaps they will be fired up and seeking to defeat the golfing colonialists.
Glenmarie G&CC in Malaysia is a 7,004 yard par-72 layout opened in 1993 and designed by Max Wexler. It features Bermuda Tiff Dwarf greens, is gently undulating and tree-lined.
The first match in 2014
Day one was a disaster for Asia (and must have felt like it for the tournament organisers too) as the Europeans won all five four-ball matches, but on the second day the home team fought back and yet still trailed 7-3 heading into the 10 singles matches (this year’s edition has been extended to 12 players). Cue an astonishing effort from the Asians who triumphed 7-3 on Sunday to secure a 14-14 tie.
Sunny, hot and humid with rain and thunderstorms a distinct possibility in the afternoons.
Byeong Hun An
The youngest winner of the U.S. Amateur in 2009 (aged just 17) it took him longer than most expected to thrive at the top level, but when he did so he wasted little time proving himself a classy ball-striker, claiming the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship. Closed 2015 out with five top eight finishes in six starts and was named European Tour Rookie of the Year. The Korean’s U.S. Amateur win might hint at match play pedigree.
The three-time winner on the European Tour had one win, one half and one loss in 2014 but it perhaps says much that his playing captain, and fellow Thai, Thongchai Jaidee elected to play alongside him - and also that he was sent out early in the singles and delivered, his 2&1 victory over Thomas Bjorn setting up the epic recovery. Will be excited by a return to this form of the game after winning the inaugural Paul Lawrie Match Play last year.
The Chinese player is a captain’s pick. A two-time winner in Japan, he claimed last year’s Volvo China Open but it does remain his only top ten finish at European Tour level.
Something of an enigma, having built a decent career out of success on only three or four courses, but the one thing the son of a greenkeeper does have going for him is the ability to turn good weeks into wins. Last seen finishing T7 in Thailand at the end of the Asian Tour season in December.
A big opportunity for the veteran Malaysian player who ended a 13-year victory drought in 2015. The pressure will be on him however; in 71 starts in European Tour co-sanctioned events he is yet to break the top 10.
Another Malaysian with a big opportunity, although Fung is at the opposite end of his career. A prodigious winner on developmental tours but yet to win on the main tours, yet to breach the top 30 in a European Tour event and lost all three matches when a captain’s pick in 2014.
A playing captain in 2014 and a legend in the Asian game, the former paratrooper has 13 wins on the Asian Tour, many of them co-sanctioned, and three wins actually in Europe. Asked his team for a miracle two years ago on the final day and sent himself out early to set the tone. His 3&2 defeat of Ryder Cup star Graeme McDowell certainly did that. The Thai player made his Presidents Cup debut in 2015 and went 1-1-1.
A familiar face in the major championships for many years, but not really a factor since finishing solo fourth in the 2009 Masters. A legend in Japan with 29 career wins there including one in each of the last three seasons after a drought stretching back to 2008. Closed last year with 12 top 20 finishes in 13 starts from September onwards.
Was ranked in the world’s top 25 back in 2011 when the Korean won two and lost two matches in his first (and only) Presidents Cup appearance. Rediscovered form with four wins in Japan to top the money list last year.
The Indian enjoyed a spectacular 2015 that saw him win twice on the European Tour, win the Asian Tour Order of Merit, bag the best finish by an Indian golfer in a major (T5 at the PGA Championship) and debut in the Presidents Cup (albeit earning zero points in three matches). Won two points from three in 2014, including a singles win over Victor Dubuisson and owns six top 10 finishes in Malaysia, including last year’s Malaysian Open win.
The Thai veteran will be 50 this year but was a winner on the Asian and Japan Tours last year. Went 1-1-1 in 2014 and is a captain’s pick this time around. Can still mix it with the Europeans, as evidenced by his T3 at last year’s Indian Open.
Relentlessly consistent on the Asian Tour, with 20 top 20 finishes in the last two seasons, but the flipside is that he is yet to taste victory or make the top 10 in a European Tour co-sanctioned event. Neither of these factors put Milka Singh off making Wang a pick.
Something of an enigma who five years ago was best known as the guy Alex Noren videoed practising non-stop (and idiosyncratically) at indoor facilities in Sweden. But he then earned Battlefield Promotion from the Challenge Tour with four wins in his first six starts in 2012. A regular on the European Tour since, he took a step up in class with victory at the BMW Masters in November (just two starts ago).
A winner in the fourballs on day one in 2014, but followed it with two defeats, and yet the seeds of his fine Ryder Cup debut were sown. At Gleneagles he made 2.5 points from three and formed a 2-for-2 foursomes partnership with Graeme McDowell. Will Clarke stick with the formula of finding the Frenchman an experienced wingman? You’d think so. The Frenchman was bettered by only Jason Day in the 2014 WGC World Match Play, underlining his head-to-head skills and claimed a second European Tour victory in Turkey in November.
Claimed two wins and two losses in his only Ryder Cup appearance at Celtic Manor in 2010 when he was a regular major championship contender and perceived as someone who might maintain the upward curve. But he stalled and has won just once since that season. Mixed results in the Seve Trophy, but plenty of individual match play success as a semi-finalist in the 2009 WGC World Match Play and winner of the same year’s Volvo World Match Play Championship.
Back in May 2015, as Ben An won the BMW PGA Championship, Fitzpatrick wasn’t even eligible for it, too far down the category pecking order. By November the pair of them were neck and neck for the Rookie of the Year. An won, but Fitzpatrick was not exactly a loser. The 21-year-old closed out 2015 with 11 top 30 finishes (six of them top four) in 13 starts including a maiden win (British Masters). Relentless from the tee and into the greens he’ll be a popular foursomes partner.
Small of stature, with an abbreviated swing, he’s easy to overlook, but he’s kept his card with little fuss since first gaining it in 1998 and is ranked 23rd on the European Tour career money list. His match play back catalogue is limited however: 1 win, 3 defeats at the 2009 Seve Trophy; two first round defeats in the WGC World Match Play.
There was a sense, possibly unfairly, that after winning the Irish Open as an amateur in 2009 Lowry had never quite blossomed. But the last two years have rectified that. He’s finished top 10 in both the British and U.S. Opens, twice finished top 10 in the Race to Dubai and earned a maiden WGC title, the 2015 Bridgestone Invitational. The Ryder Cup is the next step and impressing his captain will be his main aim this week.
What is there to say about Ian Poulter and match play golf? He’s won the WGC World Match Play (in 2010) and the Volvo World Match Play Championship (in 2011). What about team match play golf? Time and time again he delivers: four Ryder Cups and three Seve Trophies. Poulter is acknowledged as a freak in head-to-head golf. But he does have questions to answer because his form is shaky. If he needs a captain’s pick Clarke will think of this week as a reference point.
A superb opportunity for the young Englishman. A three-time winner on the European Tour in 2015, he rode the wave big time, but must now experience what it is like to maintain that form when the pressure is a little greater. His first look at a different world saw him miss the cut last week when defending the South African Open. Team golf is the next test. A likeable character, he seems certain to be a popular partner.
Clarke won’t need any introduction to his best friend in golf. He’ll know he’s won 17 points from 26 in Ryder Cup foursomes and fourballs, he’ll know he’s won 42 times around the world and he’ll know he needs to up his game to earn selection for the Ryder Cup. Why? Because history doesn’t get you on the team, form does. It’s nearly a year since his last strokeplay top 10 on the European Tour. That said, a poor performance from Westwood would be unlikely - he’s a class act and twice a winner in Malaysia.
A two-time winner in 2012, he returned to the champion’s circle with victory in the 2015 Open de France, his most prestigious title to date and possibly a sign that he is ready to transfer quantity into quality, because he does churn out the top 20s - 25 of them in 2014 and 2015 alone. Won 2, lost 1 in the 2013 Royal Trophy.
Always a promising player, Willett’s career took off last season with two wins and contention for the Race to Dubai title itself. He has played no team golf as a professional but was a member of the GB&I Walker Cup team of 2007, alongside Rory McIlroy, but scraped just one point from four. Top ranked player on either side (19th).
A winner on the European Tour again last year, he has an up and down team match play record. In the 2009 Seve Trophy he won 4.5 points out of 5, but four years later could make only 1 point from 5. Injuries have somewhat curtailed his chances over the last three years and a Ryder Cup appearance is a big aim. Ended 2015 with the bit between his teeth and 5 top 10 finishes in his last 8 starts.
How will the match go?
Team golf tends to be decided by one of three narratives.
The obvious one is that team A is vastly superior to team B. History - albeit mostly in the Royal Trophy - favours Europe in this regard (they’ve won 5 to Asia’s 2) and so do the two line-ups (the Asian team has a few obvious weak links; the European side is packed with hungry golfers eyeing up a Ryder Cup spot).
The second narrative is the underdog getting the bit between its teeth, prompted by a wrong (perceived or genuine). Could the merger rumpus motivate Asia to victory? Is it a big enough carrot or stick?
The final narrative is a misfiring captain. Will Darren Clarke be a thinker, an over-thinker or a chump?
Time will tell.