Originally created 09/13/03

A match for the ages lifts Americans



LODDEKOPINGE, Sweden -- The only stage Beth Daniel and Juli Inkster ever shared was when they were inducted into the Hall of Fame on the same night three years ago.

All they wanted was a chance to play together for the first time in the Solheim Cup.

They delivered a performance for the ages, grinding out a 1-up victory over Annika Sorenstam and Carin Koch - Europe's top tandem - in a best-ball match that turned the Americans' fortunes Friday.

"It was huge for the team," U.S. captain Patty Sheehan said. "It lifted us."

As the sun finally set over the southern coast of Sweden, the United States trailed 4 1/2 -3 1/2 but carried a ton of momentum into the second day of matches.

The pivotal match was Daniel and Inkster, a combined 89 years old with 63 LPGA victories between them, who took on a European duo that never had lost and came through with clutch shots over the final seven holes.

Neither side made a bogey.

"There was a little pride for both of us," said Daniel, at 46 the oldest player in Solheim Cup history. "We're two Hall of Famers, playing possibly their best tandem. We needed that point."

They got plenty of help along the way.

Kelli Kuehne, a controversial captain's pick after going 0-4 last year in Minnesota, teamed with childhood pal Cristie Kerr for a 2-and-1 victory over Laura Davies and Catriona Matthew.

Michele Redman - whom European captain Catrin Nilsmark once said had "absolutely no talent" - finished off the rally when she and Rosie Jones made five straight birdies down the stretch in a 2-up victory over Iben Tinning and Sophie Gustafson.

The only best-ball victory for Europe came from the team of Patricia Meunier-LeBouc, who is four months' pregnant, and Suzann Pettersen, the only player from either team to win two matches Friday.

"I'm happy. We're in front," Nilsmark said. "It could have gone a little more in our favor. I felt we left a few out there."

It almost went entirely in Europe's favor.

Fog delayed the alternate-shot matches for 90 minutes in the morning, and the Americans continued playing in a fog after the Solheim Cup resumed.

With a raucous gallery that clapped, chanted and sang along the tree-lined fairways of Barseback, Europe won three of the alternate-shot matches.

The only point for the Americans came when Kelly Robbins made 12-foot putts on the final two holes - one for par, the other for bogey - that gave her and Daniel a halve when Europe three-putted the 18th for bogey.

"I don't know what it is, but we don't seem to get out of the blocks very fast," Sheehan said. "And it didn't look very good early in the afternoon round."

Inkster, who lost her alternate-shot match with Wendy Ward, got her wish when Sheehan paired her with Daniel.

Then she looked on the other side of the draw and saw Sorenstam-Koch.

The Swedish pair had never lost in three previous Solheim Cup matches. Sorenstam is the best player in women's golf, and Koch was 7-0-2 going into the afternoon round.

"I said, 'OK, this is going to be a tough point.' We knew we'd have to work hard to get it," Inkster said.

It was every bit of that.

After they halved the first seven holes, Inkster holed a 45-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the par-3 eighth for a 1-up lead, only to see Sorenstam respond with a 10-foot birdie on No. 9 and a 4-iron into 3 feet on the par-3 11th.

Europe was leading three best-ball matches at that point and threatening to grab the largest opening-day lead in Solheim Cup history.

Daniel got the match back to all square with an 18-foot birdie on No. 13, and matching pars over the next two holes set the stage for a dramatic finish.

Inkster hit a bump-and-run into 8 feet on the par-5 16th, while Sorenstam hit a pedestrian chip to about 12 feet.

Although Daniel was away, some 40 feet from the cup, she asked Inkster to putt first to put pressure on Europe.

"She said, 'You want to putt?' And I was like, 'You mean now?' It was a good move, because it worked," said Inkster, who made the birdie putt.

Sorenstam poured in her birdie putt to keep the match square, and the fairways soon were crowded by cheering players from both teams.

Daniel peered into the sun, glaring over the Straits of Oresund, as her approach descended on the flag at No. 17, stopping just 12 feet below the cup for a birdie.

That gave the United States a 1-up lead, and they closed out the match when Sorenstam failed to make a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole.

"We had a good match, a good fight," said Sorenstam, who lost a two-stroke lead to Inkster in the final round of the U.S. Women's Open last year. "It came down to the last hole. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you don't."

For Daniel, it was a day to savor. In perhaps her final Solheim Cup, she played 36 holes Friday, and she played them well.

"She played 10 holes less than her age," Sheehan said. "She's in the best shape of her life right now, and I had no qualms about putting her out there for 36 holes."

Sheehan had no complaints about the outcome, either.

"They've been telling me for the last couple of months that they've always wanted to play together," Sheehan said. "It just so happened they played against the best team they have. It was outstanding golf."