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Asia stretches surprise lead

ASIA moved a step closer to a maiden Royal Trophy victory yesterday, dominating the fourballs matches to open up a five-point lead over twice winners Europe in Thailand.

The Asians proved their overnight lead was no fluke after turning in another consistent showing to finish 3 1/2 - on Saturday for a 6 1/2 - overall lead against a European side that struggled for a second successive day.

Three of Asia's four pairings led right from the start, with Soren Hansen and Paul Lawrie the only Europeans to put up resistance on a windy day at the Amata Springs Country Club.

They led for 15 holes against Ryo Ishikawa and Toru Taniguchi and finished all square, but defeats in the next three matches presented Europe with an uphill struggle going into the final day's singles.

Thongchai Jaidee and Prayad Marksaeng and teammates Charlie Wi and Liang Wenchong showed the strength of their partnerships to post wins for a second day.

Liang, the Asian Tour champion in 2007, carded five birdies - four in the first seven holes - the most notable a stunning putt from 30 yards on the seventh, to seal a 3&2 win over Britons Nick Dougherty and Oliver Wilson.

"We played really well together but Liang made every putt he looked at," South Korean Wi said.

"He really carried me. I'm really glad he was my partner."

Thongchai and Prayad beat Paul McGinley and Pablo Larrazabal 4&2 in another solid round for the Thai pair off the back of impressive recent form.

McGinley, who has won in all five of his Ryder Cup and Royal Trophy appearances, still looked rusty and failed to make an impact on a one-sided match dominated by the Thais.

"It was a good day today and I'm happy everyone else is doing so well," Thongchai said. "It's great for us to be winning."

Hideto Tanihara and S.K. Ho secured a 2&1 victory over Swedes Niclas Fasth and Johan Edfors, the latter having an ugly run of three straight bogeys to hand victory to the Asians.

"As a captain, I'm happy and honoured that my players have in their minds the intention to win the Royal Trophy.

"I'm happy with the situation which I'm facing right now, especially the big margin over Europe," said Japan's and Asia's captain Naomichi 'Joe' Ozaki.

"But in golf, you don't know what will happen. Tomorrow I will speak to the players and ask them to keep their momentum for the final day. I want our players to play their best. We have a big margin and I want them to keep playing aggressively."

Hansen and Lawrie, the only Europeans to win on the first day, had three birdies each in the first eight holes, but a decisive bogey by Lawrie on the 17th ensured a share of the spoils.

Europe won the first two editions of the Royal Trophy, the second by nine points.

"We have a tough task ahead of us. The Asian Team played really well and made a lot of putts today, so we need to get out there and get a lot of blue numbers on the board as quickly as possible in the singles," Spanish veteran Jose Maria Olazabal said yesterday.


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