Royal Trophy could showcase Ishikawa-Manassero duel

Ryo Ishikawa and Matteo Manassero

Ryo Ishikawa and Matteo Manassero

The Royal Trophy

Jan. 7-9

Course: Black Mountain Golf Club, Hua Hin, Thailand.

Victories: Europe 3, Asia 1

Asia Team

  • Ryo Ishikawa, Japan
  • Seung-yul Noh, Korea
  • Kyung-tae Kim, Korea
  • Yuta Ikeda, Japan
  • Shunsuke Sonoda, Japan
  • Wen-Chong Liang, China
  • Thongchai Jaidee, Thailand
  • Jeev Milkha Singh, India
  • Captain: Naomichi “Joe” Ozaki, Japan

Europe Team

  • Henrik Stenson, Sweden
  • Peter Hanson, Sweden
  • Matteo Manassero, Italy
  • Johan Edfors, Sweden
  • Rhys Davies, England
  • Thomas Bjorn, Denmark
  • Pablo Martin, Spain
  • Captain and player: Colin Montgomerie, Scotland

Note: Pablo Martin, who is making his second Royal Trophy appearance, was a late addition to Europe. He is replacing Edoardo Molinari, who withdrew recently, citing a wrist injury.

Matteo Manassero and Ryo Ishikawa may live on different continents, but the teens already have formed a bond, on-and-off the course.

The 17-year-old Italian and the 19-year-old Japanese met in September at the HSBC Champions.

“We kind of hit it off in Shanghai, and hung out together a bit,” Manassero said. “We are of a similar age and like a lot of the same things, and I think the young guys just tend to gravitate toward each other when a few of us are playing in the same competitions.”

Manassero said he welcomes meeting with Ishikawa again this week in Hua Hin, Thailand, for the fifth edition of the Royal Trophy. The Ryder Cup-style annual competition pits Naomichi “Joe” Ozaki's Asian team against Colin Montgomerie’s 8-man squad.

“Since I was named to the European Team, I keep hearing that people would love to see me and Ryo face each other in the singles, and I’d like that, too. I’m sure Ryo would as well,” Manassero said.

The teen stars represent a new breed of young golf talent, which has captured attention the world over.

The Italian prodigy turned professional after making his Masters debut in April and became the youngest winner in European Tour history when he claimed the Castello Masters in October. Ishikawa, a nine-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour, is making his third appearance at Royal Trophy and was part of Ozaki’s victorious team in 2009.

Asia nearly orchestrated another upset last year. Europe won after Henrik Stenson holed a seven-foot putt for par on the 18th green in the final match against Thongchai Jaidee. Both players are back this week.

Ozaki predicts another cliffhanger at the Black Mountain Golf Club.

“The two teams (look) very evenly-matched once again,” Ozaki said.

“If the match proves as finely poised as it was last year, it could be decided by one piece of captaincy, either an inspired choice or even a piece of good fortune.

“And if it does come down to that, I have to hope Monty has used up his luck with his Royal Trophy win and another close victory at the Ryder Cup.”

Montgomerie captained both his Royal Trophy and Ryder Cup teams to victory last year.

The format includes four foursomes matches Friday, four four-ball matches Saturday and eight singles Sunday. Europe has won three of the four previous editions of the Royal Trophy.

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