Originally created 09/15/03

Sweden savors a victory by Sorenstam, Europe



LODDEKOPINGE, Sweden -- The singing and chanting started on the first tee and never let up until Europe won the Solheim Cup.

The Swedes have never seen a golf competition quite like this. They rarely get a chance to see their most famous athlete, Annika Sorenstam, at her very best.

It was a lethal combination Sunday, and the Americans never had a chance.

"We've always thought they were so much better," Sorenstam said. "This year, I didn't think the gap was that big. And the advantage we had was being over here."

It led to the biggest blowout ever in the Solheim Cup, 17 1/2 -10 1/2 , a score that was slightly skewed by a chaotic conclusion at Barseback Golf & Country Club.

Sorenstam won her fourth match of the week, 3 and 2 over Angela Stanford, to put Europe on the cusp of winning.

Catriona Matthew, left off the last two teams, earned the decisive point with a shot from the right rough that stopped 10 feet from the hole. Rosie Jones conceded after missing her own birdie putt.

That set off a wild celebration as fans pushed past the ropes surrounding the 17th green, their cheers resounding across the course to the other five matches in progress.

None of the Europeans felt like playing, instead wanting to join the party. Ultimately, everyone stopped playing, and whoever was trailing conceded the match.

Europe was 1-up in three matches, the United States was 1-up in another. Elisabeth Esterl, 4-down to Laura Diaz, conceded the match from the 15th fairway.

"All of a sudden, it's like everybody quit," U.S. captain Patty Sheehan said. "I didn't know what was happening. Usually, we just sort of play in, and that's it."

The previous record for largest margin of victory was 17-11 by the Americans in 1996.

Sheehan said the final margin didn't matter.

The crowd sure did.

"Playing against the European team in Europe is very, very difficult," Sheehan said. "They have the 13th man. And when you're in your home country, 13 can be a very lucky number."

It belonged to the Americans last year in Minnesota, when they charged back from a 9-7 deficit on the final day to capture 8 1/2 points from the 12 singles matches.

Sheehan was banking on a repeat, but she didn't get it.

Catrin Nilsmark sent some of her best players out early, hoping to build some momentum with blue scores of Europe on the board, and she could not have asked for a better start.

"It's a huge difference for the crowd," Nilsmark said. "If they don't see any blue, it's hard for them to keep going, 'EUR-ROPE! EUR-ROPE!' Things can die out pretty quickly."

That was never the case.

Janice Moodie, the only player to go unbeaten all three days, hit her approach from the rough into 15 feet for birdie on the first hole of the first match, and she was 5 up through 10 holes against Kelli Kuehne. Moodie closed her out on the 16th.

Juli Inkster countered with a rout of her own, 5 and 4, over Carin Koch, but America's best female golfer had no help behind her.

Sheehan put Heather Bowie and Wendy Ward in the third and fourth slot. Neither had won a match the first two days, and that didn't change on a sunny day in southern Sweden.

Sophie Gustafson was 5 under when she closed out Bowie, 5 and 4.

Ward, whose halve against Sorenstam last year was the turning point in a U.S. comeback, shot 40 on the front nine and was 5 over when the match ended on the 17th.

"I really felt it was going to come down to the last four pairings," Sheehan said. "We never got there."

It appeared as though Sorenstam's match against Stanford might clinch the cup, which would have been fitting.

Already in the record books as the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour, and victories in the LPGA Championship and Women's British Open to complete the career Grand Slam, this victory was something to share and to savor.

"The is the topper of all toppers," Sorenstam said on the 18th green, pulling a T-shirt over her uniform that proclaimed Europe as the Solheim Cup champions. "It seems like it never ends. Everything is happening, and everything is going my way."

It's a different story for the Americans, who don't have possession of either the Solheim Cup or the Ryder Cup for the first time.

"It's not that they're better than us, or they play with more emotion, or they have more pride than us, or we don't play hard because we don't have any money in front of us," Inkster said. "That has nothing to do with it. It's just these three days, they played better."

The U.S. men lost to Europe last year at The Belfry in England, and these matches had a familiar look to them. Nilsmark was often conferred with Sam Torrance during her captaincy, and her strategy to stack the lineup paid off, just as it did for Europe in the Ryder Cup.

It was only the second time Europe had won the singles session at the Solheim Cup.

"We were always waiting for the person ahead or behind to get the point," Sorenstam said of past Sunday failures. "We all focused on winning our point."

Nilsmark preached to her team all week that the Solheim Cup was not five sessions of matches, rather a three-day journey in which everyone had to sit behind the wheel.

"I had 12 drivers out there," she said, turning to her team. "You were all fantastic."

The victory was especially sweet for Nilsmark, a Swedish captain for the first Solheim Cup played in Sweden. A severe back injury kept her on crutches all week, but she was all smiles at the end.

The United States still leads the series, 5-3, but has to wait until 2005 at Crooked Stick in Indiana for a chance to get the Solheim Cup back.