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Solheim Cup starts with explosive foursomes

The seventh staging of The Solheim Cup begins in earnest on Friday morning among the delightful woodland at Interlachen GC, scene of many historic championships of the past including the 1930 US Open, where the legendary Bobby Jones won the third leg of his Grand Slam.

The Solheim Cup formula is simple enough, take 12 of the finest women golfers born in the USA, 12 from Europe and pit them together over three days of foursomes, fourballs and finish it off with a dozen singles matches on Sunday afternoon.

And as matchplay has proven time and again, over three days this recipe should provide an explosive cocktail of verbal jabs, sabre rattling, gamesmanship, camaraderie, partisan team spirit and above all, some inspirational and gutsy golf.

The USA lead by four matches to two over the first six editions of the event, but Team Europe, led again by Scotland's Dale Reid, hold the 17-inch hand cut Waterford Crystal trophy after their emphatic victory beside the banks of Loch Lomond two years ago.

This week, the defending champions aim to win on American soil for the first time with a powerful blend of youth and experience making up the team including England's Laura Davies, the elder stateswoman at 38, and Norwegian Suzann Pettersen, at 21, making her debut as the youngest European player to appear in The Solheim Cup.

Each of the sides are markedly different to those in Loch Lomond highlighting a changing of the guard in women's golf with eleven out of the 24 players making their first appearance in the event, six for Europe and five for the USA.

But some of the names that made this event so spectacular in the past 12 years are striding the immaculate fairways of this undulating and tree lined Willie Watson and Donald Ross layout including Davies, Helen Alfredsson and Annika Sorenstam for Europe and Beth Daniel, Rosie Jones, Juli Inkster and Meg Mallon for the USA.

Neither team can wholly claim to be the clear favourites, but with a home ground advantage, some of the stalwarts of the European side concede that the USA is perhaps edging the battle.

However, Davies was quick to point out that if the match were played in Europe, it would not be the case.

"I think for the first time ever, we have the stronger of the two teams, certainly ball striking wise and it's yet to be seen if that can translate into points on the board," said Davies, who aims to extend her record tally of 14 points won in the biennial event.

"We don't have a weak link in the team and we have never been able to say that before. Home advantage is massive for them, but I think if it were in Europe this year, I would have us as clear favourites as our team is very strong."

Reid concurred with Davies summation heading into Friday's morning foursomes matches and vowed to keep the trophy on European soil to end her tenure as Captain.

"Obviously it means a lot for us to win over here, and we still have the cup and we don't want to hand it back too easily, and yet at the same time, we have never won two in a row," said Reid.

"It means a lot to the players, we really would like to win two in a row, and I think it makes it special when you are doing it not on your home soil, it makes it more exciting. We want to hold on to this cup as long as we can and we don't want to make things too easy for Patty, so all in all, I think we are going to see some tremendous golf this week."

The matches get underway with the morning foursomes at 0800CST (1400GMT) and the first match is a mouth-watering duel where Laura Davies and Paula Marti will take on Americans Juli Inkster and Laura Diaz.

Match number two at 0812CST sees European rookies Iben Tinning from Denmark and Raquel Carriedo from Spain against the veteran Beth Daniel and US rookie Wendy Ward.

And at 0824CST, is predicted as match of the day where the feisty pairing of Norway's Suzann Pettersen and seven time Solheim Cupper Helen Alfredsson from Sweden take on American's Kelly Robbins and Pat Hurst, with Alfredsson hoping to make amends for compatriot Annika Sorenstam's bitter defeat to the pair at Loch Lomond, when Robbins asked Sorenstam to replay a holed chip.

The final match at 0836CST sees the World number one Annika Sorenstam team up with Carin Koch to play Meg Mallon and Kelli Keuhne.

"Nothing looks too scary from there, I am very happy with those matches," said Reid after she had seen Friday's draw for the first time.

"Some people might question my pairing with Raquel and Iben, but they played nine holes this (Thursday) morning as a foursome and were four under par and I'll be looking for a result with that match tomorrow.

"All of them are key matches and we need to get off to a good start, perhaps 3-1 or 4-0 like we did at Loch Lomond.

"Laura and Paula seemed like a natural combination to go out first. LD loves to play early and I hope to get a result out of that match. The key factor with foursomes pairings is personality and out of my entire team, I am not scared to pair anyone together because they are all bonding well and capable of shooting 65's.

"Helen and Suzann are just a great pairing as they get on so well with each other and they are both so up for it.

"Annika and Carin was an easy one for me, they didn't get beaten in 2000 and they way Annika is playing this year, you could pair Mickey Mouse with her and get a point, no offence to Carin! But they are both good friends and I think they are a superb pairing for the last group."

The four ball better ball format will be played in the afternoon, with a repeat of Friday's format on Saturday. On Sunday, 12 singles matches will decide the outcome of the 2002 Solheim Cup.






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