U.S. favorite to win 4th straight Solheim Cup
DUNSANY, Ireland (AP) The Solheim Cup should be another rout for the Americans, according to the world rankings.
While the United States has seven players ranked in the top 20 compared to one for Europe - second-ranked Suzann Pettersen - there is another statistic that could speak in the host's favor. The European players have won 12 tournaments this year, while the Americans only have three victories.
That gives European captain Alison Nicholas hope that her team can prevent a fourth straight victory for the U.S.
"We've got great strength in depth and it's a very strong European team," said Nicholas, who also captained Europe in its 2009 loss in Sugar Grove, Ill. "But I would never underestimate the Americans, because on paper in the world rankings, we are the underdogs slightly."
The U.S. leads the biennial match play series 9-3, and won the last two events by four-point margins. But U.S. captain Rosie Jones expects a much closer contest when play gets under way at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Killeen Castle course on Friday.
"We haven't come here looking at rankings on paper," Jones said. "We definitely know this is going to be a hard fight. Europe has probably one of the strongest teams they've had in a long time. We have a lot of respect for that.
"I have a lot of respect for Ali, and how she can captain the team, and expect our players to fight very hard to get another win."
And the Europeans are in better form. Eight members of the team have won tournaments this year, and four of the victories came on the LPGA Tour, where Norway's Pettersen has two titles and Germany's Sandra Gal and Sweden's Maria Hjorth have one each.
Only two Americans have won a trophy this year. Brittany Lincicome has two wins on the LPGA Tour and Stacy Lewis captured her first major title at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April.
Nicholas has five rookies on her team, but she is more experienced after learning valuable lessons during her captaincy two years ago.
"The five rookies all have LPGA experience, and I think it helps that this is my second time as captain," Nicholas said. "I've got last time in the bank and there are a few small things that I can change. It was very close two years ago, we just didn't hole enough putts. If we can play the same this week and get a little bit of luck, then we can definitely win."
Christina Kim earned the 10th and final automatic spot on the U.S. team, and Jones added youngsters Vicky Hurst and Ryann O'Toole.
Cristie Kerr topped Solheim Cup point standings. Stacy Lewis was second, followed by Morgan Pressel, Angela Stanford, Paula Creamer, Michelle Wie, Brittany Lincicome, Brittany Lang and Juli Inkster.
Wie went 3-0-1 in her Solheim Cup debut in 2009, the best performance by any American that weekend. Nine of the 12 players that beat the Europeans 16-12 two years ago are in Ireland.
Inkster, at 51, is the oldest member of the team and will serve as the first playing assistant captain.
Nicholas managed to spring a surprise right away by putting Pettersen in the last of Friday's four foursome pairings. Pettersen played in the opening game for Europe in the last two Solheim Cups, but Nicholas opted to match Hjorth and fellow Swede Anna Nordqvist against Wie and Kerr.
Pettersen will partner Sweden's Sophie Gustafson against Lang and Inkster.
That choice caught Jones off guard.
"I actually thought that you would put out Suzann Pettersen in the beginning match," Jones said with a grin. "You have a tendency to do that. I was kind of going on what you have done before."
One of the keys to the Americans' recent dominance in the series has been their success in the singles matches. They won 8-4 when Pressel delivered the clinching point with her 3-and-2 victory over Nordqvist.
But England's Karen Stupples said the Europeans are better equipped to compete in that format this year.
"I think traditionally in the past the top players ... have had a lot of pressure, because they know that their points are big," Stupples said. "But this year we're all playing fairly well. I think we have a better chance together as a team, so there's not that same kind of pressure. I think we're going to do just fine."
The teams will play for 28 points over three days, with eight foursomes and fourballs on Friday and Saturday and 12 singles matches on Sunday.