Golf: Europeans take lead from cool Nilsmark: Americans put on the back foot in their pursuit of the Solheim Cup as they surrender the foursomes on the opening day

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EUROPE made a fine start to their defence of the Solheim Cup when they took the first-day foursomes 3-2 at The Greenbrier, West Virginia, yesterday.

The United States took the first point when Sweden's Liselotte Neumann and Helen Alfredsson lost three and two to Dottie Mochrie and Brandie Burton after being one up with seven to play. But Mickey Walker's European side side hit back superbly in the remaining games.

The other two Swedish players, Catrin Nilsmark and the Cup debutant Annika Sorenstam, reversed the roles and levelled up the match by fighting back from two down after eight to beat Beth Daniel and Meg Mallon on the final hole. Nilsmark made putts of 12, seven and three feet on the last three greens to turn possible defeat into a dramatic victory.

''I felt all the time that we would get some putts in in the end - and all three were as I like them, right to left,' Nilsmark said. 'I felt comfortable over them, but it was great to see them all drop.'

Sorenstam never looked back after cutting an unsteady figure at the start.

'Somebody said I looked as though I was going to throw up standing on the first tee. I don't think I was that bad, but I was relieved to see the ball down the fairway after I hit it and after that I enjoyed every minute.'

There was drama, too, in the two and one success of Scot Dale Reid and Lora Fairclough, the other new cap in Europe's line- up. One up with three to play, Reid followed Kelly Robbins into the lake at the 16th, but the hole was halved in double-bogey sixes, and Fairclough then made a 12- footer on the next green.

Laura Davies, the world No 1, and Alison Nicholas assured Europe of the first-day lead when they beat Donna Andrews and Betsy King two and one, their fourth win in five games together.

That game got off to an unbelievable start, Davies carving her drive under a tree, but her partner hitting a stunning recovery round the edge of a bunker to 15 feet, from where Davies holed for birdie.

It was all square with four to play, but the British duo won the 15th and Davies hit her approach to four feet on the 16th. Nicholas made that to put them two up with two to play and followed with a decisive eight-foot birdie putt at the 160-yard 17th.

Trish Johnson and Pam Wright were never up against the US Women's Open champion, Patty Sheehan, and Sherri Steinhauer, but they had a chance to earn a half when Sheehan bunkered the Americans' third shot to the par five last. From the rough, however, Johnson followed her in and Europe just failed to turn a good day into a brilliant one, the United States pair winning without having to putt.

Davies was delighted with the side's forusomes performance. 'Foursomes is probably the best format for us and it's important we get a good result in the fourballs tomorrow. If we are still one point ahead going into the singles then it's game on.

'I think the odds before the start (America 4-1 on favourites and Europe 100-30) should still be pretty much the same.

'Ally's shot at the first was unbelievable. I didn't even have my putter out, but I told her that if she did get it on the green I would hole it.

Then at the end I gave her two chances and she took them.'

Nicholas added: 'It's a good job I'm only 2ft tall (she is actually just under 5ft). Anybody taller would not have had a chance to play the shot I did.'

SOLHEIM CUP (White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia) First-day foursomes results (US names first): D Mochrie and B Burton bt L Neumann and H Alfredsson, 3 and 2; B Daniel and M Mallon lost to A Sorenstam and C Nilsmark, one hole; T Green and K Robbins lost to D Reid and L Fairclough, 2 and 1; D Andrews and B King lost to L Davies and A Nicholas, 2 and 1; P Sheehan and S Steinhauer beat to P Wright and T Johnson, two holes.

Europe lead 3-2.

TODAY'S FOURBALL PAIRINGS (Times BST, US names first): 5.40pm D Mochrie and B Burton v L Davies and A Nicholas 5.55pm B Daniel and M Mallon v C Nilsmark and A Sorenstam 6.10pm T Green and K Robbins v D Reid and L Fairclough 6.25pm D Andrews and B King v T Johnson and P Wright 6.40pm P Sheehan and S Steinhauer v L Neumann and H Alfredsson (Photograph omitted)