Olazabal aiming to emulate Ballesteros

 

GOLF/ROYAL TROPHY:JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL is confident of a debut victory as captain of Europe at this week's Royal Trophy but said an Asian upset awaits if there are any slip-ups by the holders.

The Spaniard last month replaced Seve Ballesteros, who is recovering from brain surgery, and firmly believes he can continue his compatriot's legacy by extending Europe's unbeaten record in the matchplay contest.

"I believe we have a very strong chance. I like my team, the Europeans are very strong and very skilled," the twice Major winner said yesterday.

"They may be a little rusty early in the season but we have a great mix of experience and youth.

"But I respect the Asia team, they have players who are on form at the moment, at the top of their game, many of them have had wonderful seasons last year."

Olazabal said Europe's much-criticised Ryder Cup defeat to the United States last year, when he was vice captain, was "no incentive" for his team to win this week.

Europe have selected a weakened line-up compared to the last two editions, with the likes of Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood and Henrik Stenson making way for newcomers Oliver Wilson, Soren Hansen and Pablo Larrazabal, although the experienced Paul McGinley - who is undefeated in team golf - has been retained.

Olazabal said the prospect of a second successive defeat could damage the reputation of European golf and warned his players to take the Asians seriously.

"We're facing a different team and we have to concentrate fully this week. We have to focus on the Asians and we have to be on our toes." He added he was nervous ahead of his first time in charge and is aware his performance this week could impact his chances of becoming the next Ryder Cup captain. "It's a big responsibility," he said. "I'm very excited but it's down to the players and my job will be to make them as comfortable as possible."

The contest starts on Friday at the Amata Springs Country Club in Chonburi and features three days of singles, foursomes and fourballs.