Golf: Europe take one-point lead into final day: John Hopkins reports from Dalmahoy

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The Independent Online
AFTER the brilliance of recent Ryder, Walker and Curtis Cup matches, we now have the Solheim Cup. In only its second staging this event is proving itself a worthy companion to the thrilling contests served up in the more historic trans-Atlantic competitions.

At the end of the second day at Dalmahoy, Europe maintained the narrow lead they had taken on the first day. A series of exciting fourball matches were all concluded on the 18th green, and Europe and the United States halved the day's play with one victory and two halved matches each. Thus Europe now lead by 4 1/2 to 3 1/2 points. The fate of the Cup will be decided today by 10 singles matches.

One can only be impressed by the strides that Europe's women professionals have made in a mere two years. At Lake Nona, Orlando, Florida in 1990they were well beaten. Only one match got as far as the 18th green and, out of a possible 16 points, Europe could win only 4 1/2 . This year's match is only two-thirds over, yet, of the eight rubbers played so far, only one has not gone to the final hole. 'We know we have to dig ourselves out of a hole,' Patty Sheehan had said on Friday night. Try as they might, the Americans were not allowed to succeed.

The four matches were as close as they could be, and the 5,000 hardy souls who braved the interminable rain were rewarded with a series of grandstand finishes. Match after match swung away from the natural viewing area provided by the steps of the old clubhouse down to the 17th green and then turned to come back up towards the clubhouse once again.

And wonder of wonders, as they did so, the rain, which seemed to have fallen continuously for days on end, ceased and a watery sun made a feeble appearance, bestowing a pale dignity on events.

If there was one match of the four that epitomised the ding-dong nature of the day's play, then it was the last one to finish, between the ice-cool Swedes, Helen Alfredsson and Liselotte Neumann, and the experienced Americans Pat Bradley and Dotti Mochrie, the world No 1.

It had been nip and tuck all the way until on the 16th Neumann holed a 20ft putt to put the Europeans into the lead. Did someone say something about the Swedes being ice cool? They yelled and whooped as if they had been brought up in the American school of cheerleading. Amidst mounting tension the 17th was halved in four and at the 18th Bradley played an approach shot that was so accurate it came to rest no more than 18 inches away. To her credit Neumann followed this wonderful stroke with one of her own that was almost as good before ending six feet away .

The green was ringed with supporters and amidst a deathly silence Bradley holed for her birdie. Neumann then had to match it to sustain Europe's one-hole lead. Her putt slid past, much as Bernhard Langer's had in the Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island last year and, just like him, she fell to her knees and held her head.

Once again Europe's heroines proved to be the unlikely combination of the big-hitting Laura Davies and the diminutive Alison Nicholas. They were never behind in their match. Indeed at the 15th, after Davies had gone up and down from a bunker for her par and both the Americans had three-putted, they were two up. But then Juli Inkster birdied the 17th and Davies only put the matter beyond doubt when she holed a brave 12ft putt for a three on the 18th green, giving the Europeans a victory by one hole.

Florence Descampe and Trish Johnson finished level with Brandie Burton and and Deb Richard, thanks mainly to Johnson managing to secure four on the 18th despite driving well to the right and ending near a tree. But Meg Mallon and Betsy King were too strong for Pam Wright and Dale Reid although the two Scottish players fought back from being four down after the seventh to take the match all the way to the 18th.


FOURBALLS (European names first)

L Davies and A Nicholas bt P Sheehan and J Inksterpl. . . . . . .1 hole

T Johnson and F Descampe halved with B Burton and D Richard

P Wright and D Reid lost to M Mallon and B King. . . . . . . . . . . .1 hole

H Alfredsson and L Neumann halved with P Bradley and D Mochrie.

Fourballs result: Europe 2 United States 2.

Score after second day: Europe 4 1/2 United States 3 1/2.