Europeans have cause for concern despite minor deficit

By Randall MellAugust 21, 2009, 4:00 pm
2009 Solheim CupSUGAR GROVE, Ill. ' Never has a one-point lead seemed so insurmountable.
Yes, thats hyperbole, way over the top, but Europe s Alison Nicholas had to be uneasy as she rode her captains cart off the course in near darkness Friday after the first day of the Solheim Cup.
The heavily-favored Americans lead seems narrow at 4 to 3 , but sometimes scoreboards deceive, or at least hide hard truths.
While it appears the underdog Euros should be encouraged keeping it close, there are reasons for Nicholas to be concerned.
Gwladys Nocera and Becky Brewerton
Gwladys Nocera and Becky Brewerton won their afternoon foursomes match Friday. (Getty Images)
The history of these matches tell her that Europe better have a giant Saturday and build as large a lead as possible going into Sunday singles to have a chance to win.
Europe (3-7) has never won a Solheim Cup without leading going into singles.
The American depth has proven decisive in so many of these one-on-one Sunday finishes.
The United States is 16-8 in singles in the last two Solheim Cups.
The home-field advantage always weighs heaviest come Sundays in these team matches. Its never greater than during singles, the loneliest day in golf for away teams.
The Americans are 5-0 at home in the Solheim Cup.
What has to trouble Nicholas is that her big guns are shooting blanks.
Suzann Pettersen, the highest ranked player on the European squad, was sent out first Friday in the morning session and first again in the afternoon session and didnt bring home a point.
It isnt as if Nicholas sent her out with stiffs in the morning fourballs and afternoon foursomes. Pettersen teamed both sessions with Sophie Gustafson, a four-time LPGA winner and 13-time Ladies European Tour winner. They were defeated, 1 up, by Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr in fourballs and routed, 4 and 2, by Natalie Gulbis and Christina Kim in foursomes.
Given Pettersens reputation and Solheim Cup record, that borders on demoralizing.
Pettersen entered this event 8-1-3 in foursomes and fourballs.
Nicholas couldnt have been encouraged by what happened to Laura Davies in the morning and to the Scottish foursomes team of Catriona Matthew and Janice Moodie in the afternoon.
Davies, whose 23 points ranks second only to Annika Sorenstam in Solheim Cup history, is in the twilight of her career, but shes still a formidable presence in the team room and an inspiration to fellow Europeans. Davies teammates couldnt have been inspired looking up at the scoreboard and seeing the Americans running up the score on her. Brittany Lincicome and Brittany Lang scored the first point in the matches beating Davies and Becky Brewerton, 5 and 4.
The team of Moodie and Matthew looked like the Euros most formidable team in the afternoon. Moodie was 6-1-1 in Solheim Cups. She was undefeated in two previous pairings with Matthew. They also teamed to finish second at the World Cup in 06.
The Scottish duo never led in its match against Paula Creamer and Juli Inkster. They were defeated, 2 and 1.
Moodies considered the feistiest European, the teams bulldog, but she was reduced to Chihuahua status with a stone-cold putter.
Yes, anything can happen this weekend, its the beauty of sport. Weve seen it in golfs biggest events all year long. We saw it last weekend with Y.E. Yang taking down Tiger Woods in the final round of the PGA Championship. When Matthew holed the last putt in the morning fourballs, a 15-foot birdie to halve a match with Morgan Pressel and Michelle Wie, it lifted the spirits of the Europeans. At days end, it was the difference between the Euros trailing by a point instead of two points.
Absolutely massive, Nicholas said. That was just sensational.
American captain Beth Daniel is sticking to a plan to resting every one of her players at least one match to keep them fresh for Sunday singles on this long course. Thats something to concern the Euros, too. Daniel is confident enough in her teams depth that she sat down Kerr Friday afternoon and will sit down Creamer Saturday morning.
Still, Inkster has seen her share of golf rodeos, and she isnt discounting this European squad.
One point is nothing, Inkster said. Its very close. A lot of these matches could have gone one way or the other. The Europeans have a very long [hitting] team and this golf course really plays to their advantage.
Little known Euros Becky Brewerton, Tania Elosegui and Gwladys Nocera all earned points Friday. There's hope in the unheralded Euros producing with the big names sleeping. If Pettersen catches fire Sunday, and the little known Euros keep becoming better known, Nicholas may get her big Saturday. Anna Nordqvist and Maria Hjorth were 7 under through 15 holes in their foursomes victory against Kristy McPherson and Lincicome. They provide hope, too.
Obviously, a one-point lead isnt insurmountable, not in a year like this in golf, but history tells us it will take a special effort Saturday to set up a European upset.
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