Published 24/09/2011 | 05:00
HEART failure or hypothermia? Both teams and nearly 17,000 spectators risked either yesterday as Europe emerged from a hugely dramatic opening day at the Solheim Cup with a one-point lead over the United States.
Golf fans are hardy souls. Many of those vociferous and excited individuals who packed the stands and other vantage points around the first tee to watch Cristie Kerr play the opening shot as dawn broke at 7.40 yesterday morning crowded around the 18th green not long before dusk to see the same player hit the day's final putt from the fringe.
America's hopes of completing their second fabulous fightback in the space of six hours and tying the match expired only when Kerr missed this 30-foot birdie attempt.
Instead, she and Michelle Wie were left with little option but to concede a birdie to Suzann Pettersen, which completed a two-hole victory for the Norwegian and her Swedish playing partner Anna Nordqvist in a gripping climax to the afternoon fourballs.
This gave the home team a 4.5 to 3.5 points lead -- when they completed their third and most recent Solheim Cup victory at Barseback in Sweden in 2003, they had been ahead by precisely the same score after the opening day.
Yet this year's match is so finely balanced, European captain Alison Nicholas last night made a direct appeal to home fans to be louder in their support of her team as the Solheim Cup comes to a climax today and tomorrow.
"Come out and shout and scream a little bit more," she said. "I'm not hearing enough from you. Please give us some more oomph. The team needs more decibels out there."
Europe's advantage would have been significantly greater were it not for the splendid defiance of the US team as they fought their way back from the brink of near annihilation in the latter stages of yesterday afternoon's session.
The scoreboard had been awash with blue as Sweden's Caroline Hedwall (22) and veteran Sophie Gustafson wrapped up a comprehensive 5&4 victory over Brittany Lincicome and Vicky Hurst.
With four birdies on her card, Hedwall's stunning performance on her Solheim Cup debut seemed a fitting microcosm of her team's mastery ... at that moment Europe were ahead in all four games and appeared to be heading for the first whitewash in a Solheim Cup session since 2002.
Yet Paula Creamer and Morgan Pressel then came up with two brilliant late birdies to eclipse English duo Laura Davies and Melissa Reid by one hole in the top match, denying Davies even the half point which would have brought her level with Annika Sorenstam on 24 in the all-time Solheim Cup scoring charts.
All day Creamer had putted like a goddess and she further underscored her reputation as Europe's greatest scourge by sinking a lengthy effort for the fifth birdie of her round to square the match at 17 ... then Gulbis found the perfect moment to land her first, holing out from 25 feet for the win at 18.
Ryann O'Toole, a feisty Irish-American, inspired Christina Kim to join her in a brave late rally as they came from two down with three to play to force a fighting half against Catriona Matthew and Germany's Sandra Gal.
Matthew played brilliantly, firing five successive birdies, giving Gal ample opportunity to find her feet in the intercontinental arena. The seasoned Scot was equally impressive in the role of 'Mother Goose' during the morning foursomes as she paired up with Azahara Munoz of Spain to beat Stacy Lewis and Angela Stanford 3&2.
That morning session came to a heart-pounding conclusion, world No 2 Pettersen holing an eight-foot putt for birdie at 18 to complete a one-hole victory for herself and Gustafson over Lincicome and Juli Inkster to draw the home side level (2-2) with the Americans.
So crucial was that putt, Nicholas leapt three feet into the air and danced a jig of delight across the final green.
American skipper Rosie Jones was almost as relieved at lunchtime. "We had a scary scoreboard there for a while," she said -- the Europeans had led in three matches before her team launched their first dramatic recovery.
DAY 1 RESULTS
foursomes (europe first)
EUROPE 2, USA 2
M Hjorth & A Nordqvist lost to M Wie & C Kerr 2&1
K Stupples & M Reid lost to P Creamer & B Lincicome 1h
C Matthew & A Munoz bt S Lewis & A Stanford 3&2
S Pettersen & S Gustafson bt B Lang & J Inkster 1h
EUROPE 2Â½, USA 1Â½
L Davies & M Reid lost to M Pressel & P Creamer 1up
C Matthew & S Gal halved with C Kim & R O'Toole
S Gustafson & C Hedwall bt V Hurst & B Lincicome 5&4
S Pettersen & A Nordqvist bt C Kerr & M Wie 2up
OVERALL: Europe 4Â½, USA 3Â½
Morning foursomes draw
7.40 C Hedwall & S Gustafson v A Stanford & S Lewis .
7.52 K Stupples & C Boeljon v M Pressel & R O'Toole
8.04 M Hjorth & A Nordqvist v B Lang & J Inkster
8.16 C Matthew & A Munoz v C Kerr & P Creamer
Live, Sky Sports 1, 7.0