Tait: Opening foursomes present opportunity
DUNSANY, Ireland – The phony war is over. Time for the real one to begin.
After too many days of meaningless buildup, verbal jousting, both teams claiming underdog status, official functions and official photographs, the 12th Solheim Cup finally got serious Thursday when both European captain Alison Nicholas and U.S. counterpart Rosie Jones announced their opening foursomes pairings.
With 28 points to play for and both teams needing 14.5 points to win, the opening session will play a huge part in determining who goes on to take the spoils.
Both captains have packed their opening lineups with long hitters to try and tackle a long Killeen Castle golf course made much longer by rain in the Dublin area preceding the match. Both hope that is the key to winning the first session and building a psychological advantage going forward.
Michelle Wie and Cristie Kerr have the honor of starting the U.S. team by hitting the opening tee shot, depending on which player wants to tee off on the odd holes. They will play Maria Hjorth and Anna Nordqvist in the opening match out at 7:40 a.m. local time.
Paula Creamer and Brittany Lincicome tee off 12 minutes later, at 7:52 a.m., against the English pair of Karen Stupples and Mel Reid.
Texas twosome Stacy Lewis and Angela Stanford take on Solheim veteran Catriona Matthew of Scotland and rookie Azahara Munoz of Spain at 8:04 a.m. Meanwhile, Brittany Lang and Juli Inkster play in the anchor match against the strong pairing of Norway's Suzann Pettersen and Sweden's Sophie Gustafson at 8:16 a.m.
It means there is no place in Europe's starting lineup for veteran Laura Davies, the only player on both teams to have played in every match. European rookies Christel Boeljon, Sandra Gal and Caroline Hedwall also will sit out. Vicky Hurst, Christina Kim, Ryann O’Toole and Morgan Pressel will watch from the sidelines for the U.S.
The matchups make for intriguing reading, and hopefully will provide the impetus Europe needs to win this Solheim Cup. Not because Europe deserves it, but for the sake of the match.
The U.S. holds a commanding 8-3 lead in the biennial competition, including victories in the past three matches. No wonder senior Europeans want to see the tide reversed here in Ireland.
“I’m a strong believer that I do think it’s important that Europe wins,” said Solheim record points-earner Annika Sorenstam, who is acting as one of Nicholas’ vice captains this week. “We have played 11 times. Europe has won three and the U.S. has won eight. I think for any competition you want to see a little bit more of an even score.
“It’s good for European golf for the women to win here. I just think it will boost it (the match) going to the U.S. in two years.”
Matthew also feels the time is right for a European win. “I think it would be pretty important for Europe and for the whole Solheim Cup if Europe can get a win this year,” Matthew said.
The U.S. is stronger on paper and in the world rankings, but this is one of the best European teams to tee it up in the biennial match. The home side has five rookies in Boeljon, Gal, Hedwall, Munoz and Reid, but collectively Europe has more wins worldwide than the visitors. Nicholas can count 12 wins among eight players, compared with just three wins for Jones.
No wonder Matthew has a good feeling. “We’ve got a good chance this year,” she said. “I think we have a good team, a good blend of experienced players and some good rookies who have proven themselves winning tournaments.
“Obviously, the Americans are going to be tough and they’re favorites, but we’re quietly confident.”
The opening foursomes will determine just how deep that confidence runs.
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Solheim Cup foursomes draw:
7:40 a.m.: Michelle Wie & Cristie Kerr (U.S.) vs. Maria Hjorth & Anna Nordqvist (E)
7:52 a.m.: Paula Creamer & Brittany Lincicome (U.S.) vs. Karen Stupples & Mel Reid (E)
8:04 a.m.: Stacy Lewis & Angela Stanford (U.S.) vs. Catriona Matthew & Azahara Munoz (E)
8:16 a.m.: Brittany Lang & Juli Inkster (U.S.) vs. Suzann Pettersen & Sophie Gustafson (E)