Golf: Shifting balance of power in battle of sexes

The European Cup, a matchplay between 10 of golf's top PGA senior men and the leading women on the European Tour, may have a limited shelf life but, as Catherine Riley observes from Praia D'el Rey, Portugal, the contest is close.
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The Independent Online
As the first foursome arrived at the start yesterday morning there seemed little doubt as to who was taking the match more seriously. Marie-Laure de Lorenzi and Kathryn Marshall strode purposefully to the first tee while Jose Maria Canizares slouched, a cigarette firmly clamped between his lips, and his partner, Antonio Garrido, looked on smiling.

Of the second foursome, Trish Johnson and Alison Nicholas, the US Open champion, started badly. Nicholas sent her tee shot long and left, a technical difficulty she was unable to work out until the 13th.

By the eighth hole, Maurice Bembridge and Noel Ratcliffe were three up after Bembridge birdied the par five. The heavy rain of the last few days has left the fairways sodden and the greens heavy but quick. The men settled back for what seemed to be an easy coast home down the back nine.

Ratcliffe had said before the match that the men were expected to win but, he thought they would "find it tough". The knee-deep heather he left Bembridge to hack his way out of at the 11th was tough indeed.

The scoreboard was beginning to look decidedly one-sided, Karen Lunn and Joanne Morley leading Tommy Horton, the men's captain, and John Morgan, and Patricia Meunier-Lebouc and Maria Hjorth also two up on Brian Waites and Jim Rhodes.

Bembridge and Ratcliffe conceded at the 12th to make their match all square. By now the balance of power in this foursome had subtly changed, as had Bembridge's mood. The previously equable Englishman sent his tee shot at the 15th into the heather and, after five minutes of fruitless searching, Ratcliffe began the lonely trudge back to the tee. "You didn't do that when I played with you at Le Touquet" a spectator remarked. "I haven't done it since the old Queen died," Bembridge snapped.

Going two down after Nicholas putted for birdie on the 16th. Bembridge's tee shot on the next landed in the middle of the lake, ensuring Nicholas and Johnson won three and one. The last game saw Horton and Morgan pull round a three-hole deficit, the fourball finishing all square, the match score tied at 21/2 each."It's a good result", De Lorenzi said. "The girls and I are happy."

Her pairings remain intact for today's fourballs, but Horton will alter all bar his Spanish pairing. "These [women] are class players," he said "It's exactly what we suspected."