Davies charges in vain

Solheim Cup: Nilsson ignites her main weapon but Europe misfire badly as America take control
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The Independent Online
AFTER BEING taken aside by the European captain Pia Nilsson on Friday, Laura Davies returned to her normal Solheim Cup form by winning her morning foursomes match with Charlotta Sorenstam yesterday. Davies and the younger Sorenstam, who gained a half in their fourball match on Friday afternoon, beat Meg Mallon and Brandie Burton 3 and 2.

Trailing by three points at the start of the day, the Europeans got the perfect start as Catriona Matthew holed from 40 feet at the first in the top foursomes. But Matthew and Annika Sorenstam had no answer to a string of birdies from Donna Andrews and Sherri Steinhauer, the British Open champion, and the Americans won 3 and 2.

Europe were up in all four matches early on a drizzly morning at Muirfield Village and desperately looking to win the morning session. But Helen Alfredsson and Marie Laure de Lorenzi, Europe's only winners in the Friday fourballs, lost to Dottie Pepper and Juli Inkster. All square playing the last, Alfredsson came up short in thick rough and the Europeans failed to get up and down. Then Catrin Nilsmark and Lotta Neumann lost to Kelly Robbins and Pat Hurst at the last to send the Americans into a five-point lead.

Coming into the match, Davies knew her new Swedish leader would be a strong captain and a battle of wills developed during practice between Nilsson's need to mould a disciplined unit and the former world No 1's desire to sneak off for a bit of shopping. Davies feared being dropped for one of the sessions on the opening two days but where Nilsson showed her presence was in letting Davies know exactly what was expected of her.

"I talked to Laura and gave her some feedback," Nilsson said. "She is close to playing exceptionally well, but she loses her patience. I told her she needed to get her fume into the ground and leave it there and get ready for the next shot. I just encouraged her to be nicer to herself."

Davies is more at ease playing with a friend rather than shepherding a rookie but Sorenstam, the sister of the world No 1 Annika, rose to the occasion magnificently in an epic fourball match with Betsy King and Chris Johnson on Friday afternoon. Yesterday, the pair quickly established a three-up lead on Mallon and Burton but the match was squared at the 13th before the Americans contrived to bogey the next three holes. Both played again in the afternoon, but Lisa Hackney was brought in to partner Davies as Trish Johnson, Alison Nicholas and Sophie Gustafson sat out the whole day.

This is only the first time the same format has been used in the Solheim Cup in successive matches and two years ago at St Pierre, Europe found themselves 5-3 down after the first day. But in an incredible second day, the Europeans won five of the eight matches, halved two and took a two- point lead into the singles.

The fact that the Americans responded strongly on Sunday to win for the third time in four matches has not masked the mistakes they made on that Friday evening, according to their captain, Judy Rankin. "We've skipped the celebrations this time," Rankin said. "The happiness about a good match lasts about six minutes. When this whole thing is finished, there will be plenty of time to be happy."

Nilsson talked the day through with her team and emphasised the need to remain positive with 20 matches still to be decided. "I still feel calm about it," Nilsson said. "We were almost there, but not quite. The Americans played well and they made the putts and we didn't. The most important thing for us is not to get down on ourselves because we are close to playing well."

It was a calculated gamble, Nilsson said, to play Johnson, who had missed two days of practice with a stiff neck, in the top foursomes with Laura Davies. Deciding not to roll with the partnership of Sorenstam and Matthew, Europe's only winners on the opening morning, was due to trying to play all 12 members of the team on the first day.

Unlike in the Ryder Cup, it is actually a rule in the Solheim Cup that each player on both teams plays at least once before the singles. It is a pedantic limitation which hampers Nilsson, trying to marshal her forces to best effect against a side with fewer stars but greater strength in depth.

Tony Jacklin, faced with similar problems in the Ryder Cup in the mid- Eighties, would have gone apoplectic at the rule. Nilsson, however, has had to be mindful of not repeating mistakes from two years ago, when inexperienced players had to come in for their token match on the second afternoon with the pressure mounting, as well as keeping her stronger players fresh for today's singles. In 22 individual matches in the last two encounters, Europe have won just three.