Europe find the groove

Solheim Cup: Davies and Johnson lead the charge to make up lost ground and secure a two-point advantage
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The Independent Online
AMERICA couldn't muster a hoot, a holler or a high-five as they struggled to match the quality of Europe's challenge and their command of the St Pierre greens in the second session of the Solheim Cup yesterday. The day began with a courageous gamble by the European captain, Mickey Walker, and ended with a tigerish fightback that stopped the United States snatching something back from a bad day.

The result was that Europe carry an encouraging two-point lead into today's final session; 12 singles matches that will settle the fourth battle for possession of the women's version of the Ryder Cup. Despite the difference in the ages of the two tournaments, there is certainly no discrepancy in the fervour with which they are fought and the men would be hard pushed to nominate a Ryder day what was more dramatic.

In transforming Friday's 3-5 deficit into a 9-7 lead the Europeans not only turned the tournament on its head but ensured that they will face their dozen dramas today with a morale that soared in the Gwent sunshine. And if their putters retain their deadliness overnight, our girls will complete the capture of all four trans-Atlantic trophies.

"The hole looked as big as a bucket to us," said Laura Davies who, as usual, led the team from the front against opponents who could win only one of the eight games played - and in that Kelly Robbins and Betsy King were stretched over the final holes by a fighting comeback from Marie- Laure de Lorenzi and rookie Joanna Morley.

It all started to go right for Europe when captain Walker gambled everything on morning glory - and then had the sight of her success wiped out by a wasp. While her team were draining the confidence from the faces of their American opponents in the foursomes session, Walker was in the treatment room with a cold compress over her left eye which was badly swollen from a sting on the upper eyelid suffered just after the matches began.

By the time she reappeared on the course with a bandage over her eye, she was able to take a Nelsonic view of a winning battle. The Americans were already trooping mournfully towards the same sized beating they had administered 24 hours earlier and Europe gained a lunchtime lead by 61/2 to 51/2, thereby rescuing the event as a close contest.

When they finished two points adrift on Friday evening, Walker had an awkward selection problem. A rule change in this year's Cup meant that each of the 12 members of a team had to play at least once over the first two days, unlike previous years when it had been possible to leave out the more inexperienced players until the singles on Sunday when all 12 play. This was thought to hand a big advantage to the American's who were rated to have more strength in depth. America played all their players on the first day but yesterday morning Walker still had two rookies, Joanna Morley and Lisa Hackney, who hadn't played.

Walker's gamble was to leave them out of the first session and hope that her experienced players would destory the American lead. Had they failed, Europe would have had to fight a rearguard battle with a weakened team. But they succeeded so thoroughly that the rookies made their debuts in a team on the rampage. Like the third rookie, Kathryn Marshall, who had played so well on Friday afternoon and yesterday morning, Hackney and Morley raced into the Solheim action with the confidence of veterans.

Hackney was paired with Davies who, with Trish Johnson, had sailed to a 4 and 3 victory over Patty Sheehan and Rosie Jones in the morning. That was nothing to what Laura was to do in the afternoon fourballs. Playing against Beth Daniel and Val Skinner, Davies birdied three of the first four holes. Hackney birdied the other and by the time they reached the eighth was ready to take control. She was further away from the hole than both Americans on the eighth and ninth holes and sank them both for birdies. The Americans missed theirs and the contest was soon over by 6 and 5.

Morley, playing with de Lorenzo, had the misfortune to be on Europe's only losing side of the day, but she sank two excellent birdie putts on 13 and 14 to level the match and make Kelly Robbins and Betsy King fight for their solitary victory. Having been also well placed in both other matches earlier in the afternoon, the Americans had reason to hope they could square the day but after a comfortable three up with four to play Michelle McGann and Meg Mallon were hit by four successive birdies from Annika Sorenstram and Trish Johnson to half the match.

Swedes Catrin Nilsmark and Liselotte Neumann also produced a surging finish to win three holes out of five for a 3 and 1 victory that complete a day that had only one discordant note. American captain Judy Rankin complained that Lisa Hackney's boyfriend and coach, Martin Hall, was walking down the fairway with the players. She didn't accuse him of giving advice, disallowed under Rule 8, but felt he should stay within a foot of the ropes. A fair point but a bit grumpy. It just wasn't their day.