Europe hold commanding Solheim Cup lead

Europe's women held a commanding five-point lead over the United States and were on the verge of their first Solheim Cup title in eight years as four washed-out matches were completed today.

Europe's women held a commanding five-point lead over the United States and were on the verge of their first Solheim Cup title in eight years as four washed-out matches were completed today.

Europe, which has won only once in the women's version of the Ryder Cup, led the American 9 1/2-4 1/2 going into Sunday's 12 crucial singles matches. Europe needs 13 1/2 points to claim the cup and the Americans need 13 to retain it with one point at stake in each match.

The underdog Europeans took an unprecedented 4-0 lead after Friday's first session of foursomes (alternate shot) and never looked back. They led 5 1/2-2 1/2 after Friday and the lead grew to five points points when they won the first two fourball (best-ball) matches on Saturday before driving rain washed out play.

The remaining four best-ball matches were completed on a Sunday morning under clear skies with Europe holding its lead.

The Swedish pair of Carin Koch and Catrin Nilsmark, in a match that was level after 14 when it was rained outwashed out, birdied the next three holes when play resumed to beat Nancy Scranton and Michele Redman 2 and 1.

Lisolette Neumann and Patricia Muenier Lebouc, 1-up when play was called, halved with Dottie Pepper and Brandie Burton.

The biggest controversy in the three-day event came when Swede Annika Sorenstam chipped in from 25 feet off the 13th green for what appeared to be a birdie. But the Americans protested that she had played out of turn - meaning she was not the farthest from the hole.

Sorenstam, who broke down in tears and was consoled by partner Janice Moodie, replayed the shot and just missed. American Pat Hurst - playing with Kelly Robbins - dropped her short birdie putt to increase the lead to two holes.

Hurst and Robbins went on to win 2 and 1 for the only U.S. victory in fourball.

"It is just really sad when you have tournaments like this," Sorenstam said. "It is sad to see that the ugly part of them came out because both Pat and Kelly are the nicest they have. It is just sad to see that - that they don't even have sportsmanship."

"Annika was very upset," said European captain Dale Reid. "She thought she had been given the nod to go ahead. By the time Kelly (Robbins) got around to her putt she realized that Annika had played out of turn."

Tournament director Ian Randell said there was no indication there had been any communication prior to the shot being played between the players" and said American captain Pat Bradley made the decision to ask for the replay.

Match referee Barb Trammell said the paced off the distances afterwards and Sorenstam was about 1 1/2 yard closer to the pin. Trammell said she didn't see Robbins give Sorenstam the go-ahead to play.

The incident, although the Americans were within their rights to call the shot back, created what Trammell called "obviously a tense situation" for the rest of the match and cast the U.S. as a win-at-all costs team.

In the final match, the Americans let a half point slip away when Beth Daniel, playing with Meg Mallon, missed a 5-foot birdie on the 18th to win the match against Laura Davies and Raquel Carriedo. They havled the match.

In Saturday's fourball matches, Trish Johnson and Swede Sophie Gustafson stayed unbeaten in three matches, beating Rosie Jones and Becky Iverson 3 and 2. Nicholas and Helen Alfredsson beat Juli Inkster and Sherri Steinhauer 3 and 2 with Alfredsson, playing poorly most of the season, racking up six birdies.

With Sunday's singles threatened by rain, both captains loaded their singles lineups with the top players leading off. The lineup: Juli Inkster, United States, vs. Annika Sorenstam, Europe; Brandie Burton, United States, vs. Sophie Gustafson, Europe; Beth Daniel, United States, vs. Helen Alfredsson, Europe; Dottie Pepper, United States, vs. Trish Johnson, Europe; Kelly Robbins, United States, vs. Laura Davies, Europe; Pat Hurst, United States, vs. Lisolette Neumann, Europe.

Sherri Steinhauer, United States, vs. Alison Nicholas, Europe; Meg Mallon, United States, vs. Patricia Meunier Lebouc, Europe; Rosie Jones, United States, vs. Catrin Nilsmark, Europe; Becky Iverson, United States, vs. Raquel Carriedo, Europe; Michele Redman, United States, vs. Carin Koch, Europe; Nancy Scranton, United States, vs. Janice Moodie, Europe.