Thongchai Jaidee avenged last year's Volvo World Match Play defeat when he beat Graeme McDowell in the singles to help Asia clinch a 10-10 draw in the inaugural EurAsia Cup presented by DRB-HICOM at the Glenmarie Golf and Country Club in Kuala Lumpur.
Five-nil down after the opening day fourballs, the side skippered by Jaidee won Friday's foursomes 3-2 to go into the 10 singles with a 7-3 deficit but won six matches and halved another two to clinch a deserved tie — adding more spice to an event which will return to Malaysia in 2016 and 2018
In the end, the fate of the EurAsia Cup – with the score tied at 9 ½ - 9 ½ - lay in the hands of Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño and Hideto Tanihara of Japan, whose ding-dong battle saw them all square playing the last hole in the last match on the course.
With both players on the 18th green in two, Fernandez-Castaño putted down to four feet while Tanihara’s effort stopped a foot and a half from the hole. Under intense pressure, the Spaniard held his nerve to roll his par effort into the back of the cup before sportingly conceding the Japanese player’s putt.
“I'm happy the way I performed under pressure but I have to say that was the most nervous I’ve ever been,” said the seven time European Tour champion. “However you just need to look around you at what is going on here: This is big. This is going to be the next big thing in golf and I'm really proud of being part of the first edition.”
Opponent Tanihara agreed. “There is not really much match play played in Japan so as a result this was a really great experience for me and all the members of the Asian team,” said the 35 year old. “It was fun being here but I must admit my heart rate was pretty high over those final few holes!”
Asian captain Jaidee – who got Asia off to the perfect start with a 3 and 2 win over 2010 US Open champion McDowell – echoed the sentiments.
“Every member of my team was a hero today,” he said. “Everyone played really well but the match itself was unbelievable. It was a great finish and to end the contest on the final holes in the final match, I’ve never seen anything like it. It was amazing.”
Opposite number Jiménez – who was one of only two outrights winners for Europe when he nervelessly holed an eight foot birdie putt on the final green to beat Malaysia’s home favourite Nicholas Fung in the first match – agreed.
“It was tough for us today but it was an amazing day of golf and the Asian team played very well,” he said. “All the European players gave everything they had and I have respect for them all – it was a pleasure to be here with them this week. As I said at the closing ceremony, nobody lost – we both won. For this to be the first edition of the EurAsia Cup that was excellent and I wish all the best for the future.”
McDowell had no complaints about jet lag or the steamy weather and pointed to the importance of the event for European Ryder Cup skipper, who was in Malaysia alongside assistant Des Smyth.
"I think this is a very important team building exercise in a Ryder Cup year for The European Team. Having Captain McGinley here this week is very important to us as European players. A couple of the boys sitting up here are pretty much locked into The Ryder Cup Team in September, and you know, tits great to get out there and see some pairings, put together in foursomes and some better-ball pairings.
"Like Thomas said, team golf is very special. It brings players so close together. You experience a lot, and it was very exciting out there. You know, let's hope this event can go from strength-to-strength and really establish itself as a big match. You know, I think we all as a team enjoyed the week, and you know, certainly it got what it deserved in a very, very exciting finish and two very evenly-matched teams in the end. I certainly enjoyed every minute of the week."
Asked if Europe had found it difficult to avoid complacency after winning the opening session 5-0, McDowell said: "You only have to look at The Ryder Cups over the last ten or 15 years from Valderrama to Brookline to Celtic Manor to Medinah; things happen. There's no room for complacency."
Two down after three holes, McDowell fought back to be level with nine holes to play but lost the 11th and 12th to birdies to go two down and the 15th to another birdie to kiss his point goodbye.
"I don't think our team was guilt I of being complacent," he added. "The Asian team played very well the last two guys and the ten guys sitting here are professional players. You can't take anybody lightly, especially in match play, anything can happen over 18 holes in match play.
"There's no room for complacency. We are not making any excuses about what happened the last two days. The Asian team played better than we did. This golf course was really well set up. You have to hit it in the fairway and you have to attack these flags and they just did a lot better than we did.
"So match play, team match play, there's a lot of things can happen. I feel like we were very lucky to get the halve in the end, some great golf from Miguel and Joost and Jamie, and Gonzo in the last match. We fought hard for every point we got today, and I think we probably feel a little bit of relief that we got a half."
With the captains’ points in the bag for their respective sides, the next hour on the golf course firmly belonged to the hosts as they threatened to repeat the ‘Miracle of Medinah’ where Europe came from four points down on the final day to clinch The 2012 Ryder Cup from the United States.
Respective wins for Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Kim Hyung-sung, Gaganjeet Bhullar and Anirban Lahiri over Thomas Björn, Pablo Larrazábal, Thorbjørn Olesen and Victor Dubuisson, allied to Prayad Marksaeng’s half point against Jamie Donaldson, saw the overall scores levelled at 8 ½ - 8 ½.
Bangladesh’s Siddikur Rahman then moved Asia ahead for the first time in the three days with a 4 and 3 win over Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher before Dutchman Joost Luiten held his nerve to hole a four footer for a winning par four against Koumei Oda of Japan to bring parity once again.
It left the outcome of the entire contest on the match between Fernandez-Castaño and Tanihara – the half point being a fitting conclusion.
EurAsia Cup — Singles (Team Europe first)
Miguel Angel JIMENEZ bt Nicholas FUNG 1 hole;
Graeme MCDOWELL lost to Thongchai Jaidee 3 & 2;
Thomas BJORN lost to Kiradech APHIBARNRAT 2 & 1;
Jamie DONALDSON & Prayad MARKSAENG halved;
Pablo LARRAZABAL lost to KIM Hyung-sung 4 & 2;
Victor DUBUISSON lost to Anirban LAHIRI 2 & 1;
Thorbjorn OLESEN lost to Gaganjeet Bhullar 4 & 3;
Joost LUITEN bt Koumei ODA 1-Hole;
Gonzalo FDEZ-CASTANO & Hideto TANIHARA halved;
Stephen GALLACHER lost to Siddikur RAHMAN 4 & 3.
TOTAL: Europe 10; Asia 10 – match halved.