Golf: Davies the bulwark of Europe's defence: Retaining the Solheim Cup in the United States calls for another inspirational performance from the world No 1

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The Independent Online
THE inspiration which Laura Davies found to lift Europe to their surprising Solheim Cup victory over America two years ago will be needed in equal measure when they defend the trophy over the next three days at The Greenbrier, in West Virginia.

Davies, the world No 1 and the leading money-winner in the United States this season, was alone in winning all three matches at Dalmahoy as Europe, against all odds, triumphed 11 1/2 -6 1/2 , and she is probably the key figure again. It is a role which her partner, Alison Nicholas, believes she is perfectly capable of filling again.

'Laura's always had the potential to be the best player in the world and now she has proved that she is,' Nicholas said. 'In the last match, she was just unbelievable.

'She willed the ball into the hole and I just knew we couldn't lose with her playing the way she did. It was almost as though she was possessed - and it was wonderful to watch.

'It reached the point when she actually winked at me as a putt was on its way to the hole. She had no doubt it was going to go in - and it did.'

Davies is enjoying her best season, with three victories in the United States, two in Europe and one in Thailand. 'I've been playing better than ever,' she said. 'I'm now playing more solidly and not losing my head.'

The Solheim Cup began only four years ago, when it was at last felt that the European circuit, formed in 1979, had enough good players to take on the Americans. In the event, they were beaten 11 1/2 -4 1/2 at Lake Nona, but two years later came Dalmahoy and, at a time when the European tour was struggling, Davies, Nicholas and company pulled off a brilliant victory.

Eight of the 10 players involved then are in this week's team - Kitrina Douglas and Florence Descampe being replaced by Lora Fairclough, from Lancashire, and Annika Sorenstam, who joins her fellow Swedes Liselotte Neumann, Helen Alfredsson and Catrin Nilsmark. Neumann, the world No 2 and British Women's Open champion, said: 'There's no comparison between the atmosphere here and at Lake Nona. It's great to see what this tournament has done in such a short time.

'There were no people in Florida and there was hardly any media interest.

'Now it's being televised on both sides of the Atlantic.

'We didn't know what was going to happen in 1990 and we didn't have the team spirit that we have now. There's a great feeling of anticipation.'

A Solheim Cup defeat might not be damaging, but another victory could do wonders in terms of sponsorship interest.

Terry Coates, executive director of the European women's tour, said: 'If we win again there is no limit to what we can achieve.'

The Americans are rightly strong favourites and even the European team agree that the home side are helped by a change in format so that everybody plays in the foursomes and fourballs.

---------------------------------------------------------------- CARD OF THE COURSE ---------------------------------------------------------------- Hole Yards Par Hole Yards Par 1st 368 4 10th 339 4 2nd 388 4 11th 140 3 3rd 475 5 12th 510 5 4th 145 3 13th 384 4 5th 527 5 14th 305 4 6th 380 4 15th 426 4 7th 194 3 16th 397 4 8th 474 5 17th 160 3 9th 164 3 18th 554 5 Out: 3,115 36 In: 3,215 36 Total: 6,330 72 ---------------------------------------------------------------- TODAY'S PAIRINGS (Europe names first; times BST) 3.25pm L Neumann and H Alfredsson v D Mochrie and B Burton 3.40 C Nilsmark and A Sorenstam v B Daniel and M Mallon 3.55 D Reid and L Fairclough v T Green and K Robbins 4.10 L Davies and A Nicholas v D Andrews and B King 4.25 P Wright and T Johnson v P Sheehan and S Steinhauer ---------------------------------------------------------------- TEAMS FOR THE GREENBRIER, WEST VIRGINIA ---------------------------------------------------------------- UNITED STATES DONNA ANDREWS ---------------------------------------------------------------- Age 27. Cup record: Debut. World ranking: 4.

Three wins this season, including Dinah Shore, where she pushed Laura Davies into second place.

---------------------------------------------------------------- BRANDIE BURTON ---------------------------------------------------------------- Age 22. Cup record: 1992 (P2 H1 L1). World ranking: 10.

A big-hitter who lost 4 and 2 to Laura Davies at Dalmahoy. The youngest player on either side.

---------------------------------------------------------------- BETH DANIEL ---------------------------------------------------------------- Age 38. Cup record: 1990-92 (P5 W4 L1). World ranking: 7.

Second behind Davies on the US money list this year, and in form with her 35th career victory this weekend.

---------------------------------------------------------------- TAMMIE GREEN ---------------------------------------------------------------- Age 34. Cup record: Debut. World ranking: 8.

Runner-up to Patty Sheehan in the US Women's Open this summer.

---------------------------------------------------------------- BETSY KING ---------------------------------------------------------------- Age 39. Cup record: 1990-92 (P6 W3 H1 L2). World ranking: 3.

Twice US Women's Open champion. Beaten by Liselotte Neumann in the Dalmahoy singles.

---------------------------------------------------------------- MEG MALLON ---------------------------------------------------------------- Age 31. Cup record: 1992 (P3 W2 L1). World ranking: 12.

Winner of the US Women's Open and LPGA titles in 1991, but her defeat by Catrin Nilsmark gave the cup to Europe.

---------------------------------------------------------------- DOTTIE MOCHRIE ---------------------------------------------------------------- Age 29. Cup record: 1990-92 (P6 W2 H1 L3). World ranking: 5.

The leading money-winner and world No 1 in 1992, but that did not save her from losing to Dale Reid.

---------------------------------------------------------------- KELLY ROBBINS ---------------------------------------------------------------- Age 25. Cup record: Debut. World ranking: 13.

Given a wild card by the captain, JoAnne Carner, after shooting up from world No 45 at the start of the year. Preferred to Nancy Lopez and Pat Bradley.

---------------------------------------------------------------- PATTY SHEEHAN ---------------------------------------------------------------- Age 37. Cup record: 1990-92 (P6 W2 H1 L3). World ranking: 9.

Won the US and British Women's Open double in 1992 and is the current US champion. Beaten by Dale Reid in 1990 and Trish Johnson two years ago.

---------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------- SHERRI STEINHAUER ---------------------------------------------------------------- Age 31. Cup record: Debut. World ranking: 14.

Only once outside the top 30 on the American money list and eighth this season.

---------------------------------------------------------------- EUROPE HELEN ALFREDSSON ---------------------------------------------------------------- Age 29. Cup record: 1990-92 (P6 W2 H1 L3). World ranking: 6.

One of four Swedes in Europe's team. A winner on both sides of the Atlantic this year. Unbeaten at Dalmahoy.

---------------------------------------------------------------- LAURA DAVIES ---------------------------------------------------------------- Age 31. Cup record: 1990-92 (P6 W5 L1). World ranking: 1.

Inspirational figure. Leads the American money list this season after three wins. The Seve Ballesteros of women's golf.

---------------------------------------------------------------- LORA FAIRCLOUGH ---------------------------------------------------------------- Age 24. Cup record: Debut. World ranking: 45.

Achieved the last automatic place. A former amateur international from Chorley, Lancashire.

---------------------------------------------------------------- TRISH JOHNSON ---------------------------------------------------------------- Age 28. Cup record: 1990-92 (P6 W1 H1 L4). World ranking: 25.

Won two successive events in America last year. Her only cup win was in Dalmahoy singles over the then world No 1 Patty Sheehan.

---------------------------------------------------------------- LISELOTTE NEUMANN ---------------------------------------------------------------- Age 28. Cup record: 1990-92 (P6 W3 H1 L2). World ranking: 2.

In superb form with two wins in the United States and three in Europe, where she won the Order of Merit.

---------------------------------------------------------------- ALISON NICHOLAS ---------------------------------------------------------------- Age 32. Cup record: 1990-92 (P6 W3 L3). World ranking: 61.

A tiny figure who has formed a formidable partnership with Davies.

---------------------------------------------------------------- CATRIN NILSMARK ---------------------------------------------------------------- Age 27. Cup record: 1992 (P1 W1). World ranking: 93.

Her only appearance at Dalmahoy was in the singles - and she earned the point that won the cup. Winner of the Ford Classic this year.

---------------------------------------------------------------- DALE REID ---------------------------------------------------------------- Age 35. Cup record: 1990-92 (P6 W2 H1 L3). World ranking: 109.

Has been in two play-offs since being given a wild card. Had wins over the American stars Patty Sheehan and Dottie Mochrie in cup singles.

---------------------------------------------------------------- ANNIKA SORENSTAM ---------------------------------------------------------------- Age 24. Cup record: Debut. World ranking: 28.

Rookie of the Year in Europe last season and America this year. Second in the cup points table despite no wins.

---------------------------------------------------------------- PAM WRIGHT ---------------------------------------------------------------- Age 30. Cup record: 1990-92 (P6 W2 H2 L2). World ranking: 153.

Chosen because of her experience but has struggled this year.