Europe's women have scent of victory

Solheim Cup: American team have mountain to climb to retain trophy as they struggle in stormy Scotland

On a day dominated by dark, threatening skies and thunderous downpours, it was little wonder Loch Lomond eventually gave in to the elements on the second days' play in the Solheim Cup.

On a day dominated by dark, threatening skies and thunderous downpours, it was little wonder Loch Lomond eventually gave in to the elements on the second days' play in the Solheim Cup.

When play was finally halted at 3.29pm, Europe had increased their three-point overnight lead by a further two points, taking the first two fourballs to stand 7 1/2 - 2 1/2 ahead.

The remaining four ties are due to be completed this morning, with the dozen remaining singles matches following thereafter. Should no play be possible, the tournament will spill over to tomorrow, but if the weather intervenes for a third straight day, the current result will stand and Europe will win the trophy for the first time since 1992.

Autumn in Scotland can be beautiful, and although the loch's majesty continued to radiate through the rain, there was little aesthetic pleasure for the public to gain from the mud-churned walkways which quickly resembled battlefields of the Somme.

The contest was originally scheduled for two weeks ago but American TV network NBC, who are broadcasting the tournament in the States, requested the delay so they could give prominence to the Olympics. Whether that would have made a difference is debatable because the weather at the end of September was no better than it is now. So with typical British resolve, the majority of yesterday's astonishing 14,628 spectators popped open their brolleys and got on with it.

The rain also brought problems for the players already trying to cope with a testing golf course playing its full 6,338 yards. Aside from waiting for greens to be be cleared by one of the 45 squeegees, there were also pin placement alterations on the ninth, 11th and 14th as the original ones threatened to submerge.

On the sixth green another delay materialised when Nancy Scranton's caddie dropped his towel on the ball. Match referee Andy Lott deemed the ball to have been moved and Scranton incurred a one-stroke penalty.

It did not unduly affect matters as partner Michele Redman won the hole for the Americans with a birdie four, but it all added to the time taken to get round, in some cases around three-and-half hours for nine holes.

It is normal for fourball golf in major international contests to take a long time and this was certainly no different although, to be fair, every shot had to be preceded by a routine of cleaning the ball, finding a dry spot on the fairway to drop, warming the hands and wiping the grips.

It might have taken a while but to the players' credit some of the golf was worth waiting for, especially in the top match, which saw Sweden's Sophie Gustafson and England's Trish Johnson run out 3 and 2 winners over Rosie Jones and Becky Iverson.

Gustafson, a 26-year-old from Saro, might suffer from a severe stammer, but when she lets her clubs do the talking she is flawless. The Swede proved that point with a superb outward half featuring four birdies in a row from the third, providing the foundation for the victory.

If that was impressive, the highlight of the round came at the 207-yard 11th hole where she smashed a three-wood tee shot into the teeth of the driving rain to 20 feet from the pin before holing for a birdie two.

Ironically it was Johnson who provided the winning putt on the 16th, holing from two feet for a birdie four, but she was quick to credit Gustafson's role. "It is incredibly easy to gel with someone who is playing out of her skin," said Johnson. "Obviously she has played this well most of the year but to do it two or three days on the trot is not easy."

Johnson also put some perspective on what it would mean to the European side to pick up the Solheim Cup for only the second time.

"I think we just get sick of getting beaten, to be honest," she said. "We all play over there [America] and it's not much fun every two years when you go back and you know what they're thinking."

The Swedish influence continued in the second tie thanks to Helen Alfredsson, viewed in some quarters as a controversial wild-card selection by captain Dale Reid and who was involved in an injury scare in the run-up to the event when she cut her left hand after slipping on gravel.

The former Womens' British Open champion was partnered by Alison Nicholas but the pint-sized English girl's role was largely as cheerleader as Alfredsson produced six birdies in 15 holes to help the European duo beat Juli Inkster and Sherri Steinhauer 3 and 2.

In the unfinished matches, there was further encouragement for the European cause. Lotte Neumann and Patricia Lebouc stood one-up on Dottie Pepper and Brandie Burton after 13 holes, the same lead held by Laura Davies and Raquel Carriedo over Meg Mallon and Beth Daniel at the same stage.

The only losing European pairing were Janice Moodie and Annika Sorenstam, one-down to Pat Hurst and Kelly Robbins after 12.

However, the fact the home duo had been three down after nine put a bright face on the statistic.

Sunday Singles

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

Results from the Solheim Cup with two matches completed and four others suspended because of rain at the Loch Lomond Golf Club:

Europe 7 1/2, United States 2 1/2

Saturday Fourball

Trish Johnson and Sophie Gustafson, Europe, def. Rosie Jones and Becky Iverson, United States, 3 and 2.

Alison Nicholas and Helen Alfredsson, Europe, def. Juli Inkster and Sherri Steinhauer, United States, 3 and 2.

Nancy Scranton and Michele Redman, United States level with Catrin Nilsmark and Carin Koch, Europe (14 holes).

Lisolette Neumann and Patricia Meunier Lebouc, Europe, 1-up on Dottie Pepper and Brandie Burton, United States (13 holes).

Laura Davies and Raquel Carriedo, Europe, 1-up on Meg Mallon and Beth Daniel, United States (13 holes).

Pat Hurst and Kelly Robbins, United States, 1-up on Annika Sorenstam and Janice Moodie, Europe (12 holes).

Friday

Morning Session - Foursomes

Laura Davies and Alison Nicholas, Europe, def. Dottie Pepper and Juli Inkster, United States, 4 and 3.

Trish Johnson and Sophie Gustafson, Europe, def. Kelly Robbins and Pat Hurst, United States, 3 and 2.

Catrin Nilsmark and Carin Koch, Europe, def. Brandie Burton and Becky Iverson, United States, 2 and 1.

Annika Sorenstam and Janice Moodie def. Meg Mallon and Beth Daniel, United States, 1-up.

Afternoon Session

Becky Iverson and Rosie Jones, def. Laura Davies and Alison Nicholas, Europe, 6 and 5.

Juli Inkster and Sherri Steinhauer, United States halved Trish Johnson and Sophie Gustafson, Europe.

Kelly Robbins and Pat Hurst, United States, def. Liselotte Neumann and Helen Alfressson, Europe, 1-up.

Janice Moodie and Annika Sorenstam, Europe, def. Meg Mallon and Beth Daniel, United States, 1-up.

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