Golf: Europe's fightback ends in failure

Golf: United States triumph in Solheim Cup but Davies earns herself a place in the record books
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FIVE POINTS down going into yesterday's 12 singles, Europe's captain, Pia Nilsson, had no option but to send out her four best players at the top of the order. Laura Davies, Helen Alfredsson, Annika Sorenstam and Lotta Neumann - who with Australia's Karrie Webb comprise the top-five on the world rankings - each recorded victories but could only delay the moment when America retained the Solheim Cup 16-12 at Muirfield Village.

Davies continued her erratic play but beat Pat Hurst at the 18th despite going round in an approximate 80. Davies won the fifth with a six but lost the 14th when she put her third, a chip, across the green into a stream. Hurst squared the match at the 17th, where Davies failed to match her opponent's up and down from sand, but two putts at the last gave the Englishwoman what she and her team were looking for, the vital first point of the day. "It was not great golf," Davies admitted, "but it was a great match."

Alfredsson then beat Juli Inkster 2 and 1, and Sorenstam, the world No 1 who had been dormie four up, achieved the same winning margin over Donna Andrews. Neumann, who had played better than her record of being on the losing side on all her three previous matches, rallied from two down after six against Brandie Burton to win at the last.

But by then Dottie Pepper, undefeated in the match, had beaten Trish Johnson 3 and 2 and Rosie Jones completed a comfortable win over Catrin Nilsmark. Kelly Robbins then holed 12-foot putts at the 16th and 17th to defeat Charlotta Sorenstam and when Sherri Steinhauer hit her eight- iron third shot close at the 15th to go dormie three up on Catriona Matthew, the Cup had been retained. Steinhauer, the British Open champion, then birdied the next to put the winning point on the board.

"We tried our hardest but were just too far back," said Nilsson, who dressed her team in the Swedish colours of yellow and blue. "But at least we have done better in the singles than for a long time so that was good."

When the bottom match had cleared the first green, Europe were up in seven matches and square in three, giving them a tied match overall but it did not last. Recent history in international competitions is for the team behind going into the singles to make a strong comeback but just as for the Americans at Valderrama last year in the Ryder Cup, five points was too great a deficit to overcome.

The victories for Davies, who had played in every series of each Solheim Cup, and Pepper kept them tied with 121/2 points as the leading scorers in the competition's history. Pepper, intense even by New Yorkers' standards, adds spice to the occasion but again trod a fine line in golfing etiquette.

Pepper was whipping up the gallery throughout the event and did so to such an extent at the denouement of an important foursomes match on Saturday morning that Davies posted a complaint with Judy Rankin, the American captain. European players' frustrations on Saturday night were beaten out on a punch bag.

"I am not aware of Dottie being rude but if something happened before a shot was played, then I apologise," Rankin said. "When Dottie gets exuberant, she lets you know how she feels. I know she gets carried away but that's part of the reason everybody likes to see Dottie play. It would never be my intention or, to my knowledge, anyone else's that someone should be irritated but it is hard in these matches when the emotion runs so high.

"I don't get real close so I don't have to be responsible," Rankin joked when asked how she handled Pepper. "I realise that emotion carries her away now and then. The Europeans have their own antics but don't make them public."

SOLHEIM CUP (Columbus, Ohio). Singles (US names first): P Hurst lost to L Davies 1 hole; J Inkster lost to H Alfredsson 2 and 1; D Pepper bt T Johnson 3 and 2; R Jones bt C Nilsmark 6 and 4; B Burton lost to L Neumann 1 hole; K Robbins bt C Sorenstam 2 and 1; B King lost to L Hackney 6 and 5; D Andrews lost to A Sorenstam 2 and 1; C Johnson lost to ML de Lorenzi 1 hole; T Green bt A Nicholas 1 hole; S Steinhauer bt C Matthew 3 and 2; M Mallon halved with S Gustafson. Singles result: United States 51/2 Europe 61/2.

Match result: United States 16 Europe 12.

Saturday's results,

Digest, page 22