Golf: Johnson hopeful of vintage performance

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TRISH JOHNSON believes the European side that will try to win back the Solheim Cup from America in Columbus, Ohio, on Friday could in years to come be looked on as the best ever.

But when official practice for this weekend's match began at Jack Nicklaus's Muirfield Village course in Columbus, Ohio, yesterday, the 32-year-old Bristol golfer found herself on the treatment table.

Johnson, an ever-present for Europe since the female equivalent of the Ryder Cup began in 1990, woke up with a stiff neck. She went to the driving range with the rest of the team but was clearly in pain and, instead of then joining Laura Davies and the Swedish rookie Sophie Gustafson on the first tee, headed for massage. "Today is just a chance for the players to have a look at the course," Europe's captain, Pia Nilsson, said. "Trish will probably just do some chipping and putting."

Johnson has been looking forward to this week from the second the Americans came back from 9-7 down to win 17-11 at St Pierre, Chepstow, two years ago.

"When you win you don't think about the next match for a few weeks, but when you lose it's from the very next minute," she said.

"The simple explanation is that [at St Pierre] they played better golf in the singles than we did, but this time I think we're favourites and that we'll be gutted if we don't win. I don't think we've ever had a better team - and maybe we never will have."

Europe, 3-1 down in the series, have four of the leading five players in the world rankings in Annika Sorenstam, Lotta Neumann, Helen Alfredsson and the irrepressible Davies, whose confidence has been given a timely lifted by her second behind Sorenstam in the Safeco Classic in Seattle last Sunday.

Scotland's Catriona Matthew is the lowest ranked player at 51st but was a hugely impressive winner of the McDonald's Championship at Gleneagles last month.

"Our strong point is that we are so much a team," added Johnson. "We get on great with each other - we've played together for donkeys' years and we're all mates. I don't think they the Americans talk about the Solheim Cup like we do."

One thing they are assured of is support. Advance season ticket sales have reached 18,000, up 13,000 on four years ago.

UNITED STATES: D Andrews, B Burton, T Green, P Hurst, J Inkster, C Johnson, R Jones, B King, M Mallon, D Pepper, K Robbins, S Steinhauer. Non-playing captain: J Rankin.

EUROPE: H Alfredsson, L Davies, M De Lorenzi, S Gustafson, L Hackney, T Johnson, C Matthew, L Neumann, A Nicholas, C Nilsmark, A Sorenstam, C Sorenstam. Non-playing captain: P Nilsson.