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No clear favourite for Solheim Cup

A case can be made to call the Americans the favorites. The same can be said for the Europeans. That's how competitive this week's Solheim Cup is expected to be.

Tuesday morning, the two sides will begin their preparation with the first of three days of practice rounds at Interlachen Country Club before play begins Friday morning.

The Europeans have talked about keeping the cup that they won in 2000 at Loch Lomond and winning for the first time in the United States. The Americans have talked about how important it is to them to win back the Solheim Cup.

So who's the favorite? Well, that depends:

* The stats: According to the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index -- a worldwide computerized ranking system -- the Americans are the favorites.

While European star Annika Sorenstam is ranked No. 1 in the world, the U.S. team has five players ranked in the top 20 and all 12 are ranked in the top 52.

By comparison, just two Europeans -- Sorenstam and No. 15 Carin Koch -- are in the top 20.

Four of the Europeans rank outside the top 52 including Karine Icher, who at No. 143 is the lowest-ranked player in the event.

The average American ranking is 18.6 while the European average is 46.

* Local knowledge: This is the area where even the Europeans acknowledge the U.S. has an advantage. While Tuesday's practice round will be the first time nearly every member of the European team has seen Interlachen, that isn't the case with the Americans.

Almost every member of the U.S. team has played the course more than once.

"You have to be able to put the ball in the right spot on these greens," said Michele Redman, a Plymouth resident who has played the course about a dozen times. "I don't think one or two times around is going to be enough."

U.S. captain Patty Sheehan said the players are going to have to think their way around the golf course.

"They have to be a little cautious around the greens, the greens are going to be pretty wicked," Sheehan said. "They need to respect where it is they can miss the green and where it is they can't miss the green. They have to be very smart."

Laura Davies, the European veteran, calls the Americans "slight favorites because they are at home."

Still, it's not as if the Europeans don't have a chance.

* The hot player: There's nobody in the field hotter than Sorenstam. All the Swedish superstar and European star has done of late is win her past three starts.

In winning the Compaq Open, the Williams Championship and the Safeway LPGA Golf Championship, Sorenstam has 10 consecutive rounds under par.

In that stretch, she has averaged 66.9 strokes per round and is a combined 45-under par.

If Sorenstam stays on that kind of a role, she could do some damage for the European team. While European captain Dale Reid didn't play any of her players in all five possible matches in 2000, Sorenstam seems like a lock to play at least four matches.

If she sweeps, the Europeans have made a good start toward keeping the Cup.

* The magic number : This is one place where a tie is as good as a win for the Europeans. Because the Europeans hold the Solheim Cup, they can keep it with a 14-14 tie. For the Americans to win the Cup, they need to finish with at least 14 1/2 points.

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