Originally created 09/14/03

Sorenstam stars as Europe builds big lead



LODDEKOPINGE, Sweden -- Annika Sorenstam never leapt so high, thrusting her arms skyward with such might that her putter slipped from her hands like a baton.

Laura Diaz never looked so low, wiping tears from her eyes as she left the green.

The final two holes Saturday brought a sudden change in emotion and momentum, and gave Europe a strong grip on the Solheim Cup.

Sorenstam and Suzann Pettersen denied another late charge by the Americans at Barseback Golf & Country Club, making birdies on the final three holes for a 1-up victory that gave Europe a 9 1/2 -6 1/2 lead going into the final round of singles matches.

But it's far from over.

"This is a trip that starts Friday morning, and we're not there until Sunday afternoon," European captain Catrin Nilsmark said. "And if we're going to get there, everybody has to get in the front seat and drive."

No one steered Europe quite like Sorenstam and Pettersen.

With Diaz already in the hole for birdie on the 17th hole of a better-ball match, she and Kelly Robbins were poised to take a 1-up lead into the final hole.

Sorenstam wasn't about to let it get away that quickly, not in her own country.

She knew her 20-foot birdie putt from the fringe was good as soon as it left her putter. When it disappeared, Sorenstam showed more raw emotion than when she shot 59, won any of her six majors or hit any shot at Colonial.

"The putt on 17, I won't forget in a long time," Sorenstam said.

Pettersen, the only player to win all four matches this week, took over from there.

Her caddie handed her a new ball on the 18th tee, but not before writing "Birdie Ball" in large letters with a black marker.

Diaz hit first into the green, and she raised her arms in triumph when the ball stopped just 4 feet behind the hole.

Not to be outdone, Pettersen hit her approach to 15 feet, while Sorenstam's shot brought the loudest cheer from 15,000 people swarming around the 18th hole. It stopped about 6 feet right of the cup.

Robbins was 50 feet away across the green, but the Americans elected to have Diaz hit her short putt first, with hopes of putting pressure on Europe.

Instead, she pulled it badly to the left.

Pettersen went next, and the 22-year-old Norwegian started charging across the green as the ball drew nearer to the hole. When it fell, giving Europe an extra point as a cushion, she ran into Sorenstam's arms.

"Both myself and Annika would have hated to lose that match," Pettersen said. "I think it was important to get one more point on the board."

Europe needs all the points it can get.

Singles matches are what the Americans do best. They trailed 9-7 last year in Minnesota and won 8 1/2 points on the final day for victory. They trailed by the same margin in 1996 in Wales and won 10 of the final 12 matches.

"Nobody is panicking," U.S. captain Patty Sheehan said. "We're used to being in this position. They're going to go to bed excited, and they're going to get up excited. They can't wait to bet out there."

Nilsmark drew up a final lineup that indicates she can't wait to win, stacking some of her best players at the top.

"I don't want to wait to get any blue on the board," Nilsmark said.

The Americans had to rally to keep it close after getting whipped again in the morning alternate-shot session. The best they could do were two halves, and for the first time in Solheim Cup history, they failed to win an alternate-shot match.

Juli Inkster and Beth Daniel renewed their Hall of Fame pairing in the first better-ball match Saturday afternoon and won, 5 and 4, against Mhairi McKay and Ana Belen-Sanchez, who played for the first time all week.

Janice Moodie and Catriona Matthew remained unbeaten as a pair, too, winning 4 and 3 over Rosie Jones and Wendy Ward.

Momentum shifted to the Americans when Kelli Kuehne and Cristie Kerr birdied their last two holes for a 2 and 1 victory over Laura Davies and Sophie Gustafson.

Kuehne hit a wedge from the rough into 4 feet on the 16th, and Kerr's 6-iron from 150 yards on No. 17 stopped 2 feet away for a birdie the Europeans conceded.

Kerr, who has never lacked for confidence despite only one LPGA victory, celebrated before she got to the green. Her caddie, Worth Blackwelder, infuriated the Europeans by raising his hands to rev up the small group of Americans in the gallery.

"I don't mind losing, but only to the best," Davies said to her caddie, as Gustafson lined up a 25-foot putt that would have extended the match.

The final match of a thrilling day was the best of the week.

All square going to the par-5 16th, Robbins hit a chip over the bunker to 4 feet after Pettersen had hit her approach into 5 feet.

Pettersen made her putt, pumping her fist as the gallery roared. Diaz had a putt from off the green that went long, and she lined up her par putt to give Robbins a good read.

Sorenstam wisely conceded the putt. Diaz paid no attention.

"It's good. It's for par," Sorenstam called out to her.

Because Europe was already in the hole for birdie, the United States could not take a putt for a score higher.

"I know what it's for," Diaz barked back, although she apparently didn't know the rules.

Then, Diaz hit two of the best shots of her career - one for a 4-foot birdie on the 17th, the other into 4 feet on the 18th.

She made the first one and it didn't matter because Sorenstam matched it.

Diaz missed the second putt, and it gave Europe a three-point lead.