Golf: Davies down as Europe stumble

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WHEN THE Ryder Cup was staged at Muirfield Village in 1987, Jack Nicklaus, the American captain, had to urge the local public to support the home team in both greater numbers and volume for the final two days. For the women's version of the transatlantic competition, the locals were matched by Britons and Swedes on the first tee and the opening European pairing of Laura Davies and Trish Johnson received a bigger cheer than their opponents.

But it did not take long for the home supporters to make themselves known both visibly and audibly as the Americans took a 3-1 lead after the morning foursomes. Europe's only victors were the pairing of world No 1 Annika Sorenstam and Catriona Matthew. Birdie putts from Sorenstam put them three up after six holes against Donna Andrews and Tammie Green and the pair held on to win 3 and 2.

"I have never been as nervous as on the first tee," said Matthew, who produced fine performances in the three Curtis Cups she played as an amateur. "Although it looks bleak overall, there is a long way to go."

Matthew was unfortunate not to be selected for the afternoon fourballs but both Nilsson and Judy Rankin, the American skipper, elected to play all four of the players who had sat out the morning.

With the top two matches producing 3 and 1 wins for the Americans - Davies and Johnson doing well to extend their match against Dottie Pepper and Juli Inkster to the 17th - the only chance of a further half point came unexpectedly in the third match where Lisa Hackney and Lotta Neumann were three down with four to play against Kelly Robbins and Pat Hurst.

But the Americans four-putted the par-five 15th after hitting the green in two and then failed to get up and down from a bunker two holes later. At the last, Hurst hit the flag with her approach and after Hackney holed from five feet, Robbins followed her in from four feet to halve the hole in birdie-threes and win by one hole.

If it was a gamble for European captain Pia Nilsson to pick Johnson for the opening match, it did not pay off. Affected more by her lack of practice than the stiff neck which had prevented her playing on Tuesday and Wednesday, Johnson missed the green with her approach shots at the first, third and the par-three fourth as the Europeans went three down.

They also lost the fifth when Pepper hit her pitch to a foot and Davies, from the same position, saw hers run through the back. Davies and Johnson are both quick players and the Americans took their time to slow the pace. They were still practising on the eighth green when Davies teed off at the ninth. "I didn't even know you weren't there," Davies said when the Americans finally arrived on the tee.

But another poor approach shot by Johnson left the European four down at the turn. Inkster found a pond with her tee shot at the short 12th and a stream at the 14th but redeemed herself with a superb shot at the short 16th as Pepper holed the putt from seven feet to go dormie two up.

Davies sprayed her drive at the 17th into the trees and Johnson had to take a penalty drop before moving the ball only five feet and neither could Davies get the ball out of the trees with their fourth. Davies, on the verge of tears, promptly conceded.

SOLHEIM CUP (Muirfield Village): US v Europe (US names first): Foursomes: D Pepper and J Inkster bt L Davies and T Johnson 3 and 1; M Mallon and B Burton bt H Alfredsson and A Nicholas 3 and 1; K Robbins and P Hurst bt L Hackney and L Neumann 1 hole; D Andrews and T Green lost to A Sorenstam and C Matthew 3 and 2. Foursomes result: United States 3 Europe 1.