Europe take slender Solheim Cup lead as USA fight back

Elspeth BURNSIDE

Gleneagles (United Kingdom) (AFP) - Europe edged the opening day of the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles to take a 4.5-3.5 lead, but USA captain Juli Inkster was relieved to snatch two halves on the final two matches of the day on the 18th.

The hosts had the better of the morning foursomes 2.5-1.5 despite a starring role for Korda sisters, Jessica and Nelly.

Europe then seemed set for a commanding lead as the first two fourballs were shared as Carlota Ciganda and Bronte Law along with Charley Hull and Azahara Munoz were both one up with one to play.

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However, Lexi Thompson and Jessica Korda hit back with Thompson sinking a birdie putt on 18 to ensure a topsy-turvy match was shared.

"It was great to turn it round," said Thompson. "But I knew if I missed Jess would make the birdie. There was great golf all round and so pleased to get the half point."

In the final match on the course, Hull and Munoz were four up with six to play, but Nelly Korda and Brittany Altomare won 14th, 16th and 17th to set up a nervous finale.

And this time it was rookie Altomare who snatched the birdie, holing from 15 feet for an unlikely half.

"These two last matches were key," said Inkster. "If someone had told me we would only be one point behind after day one I would have been quite happy. I think we are looking good."

- 60-foot putt -

Rookie Anne Van Dam was the leading light for the Europeans in the first fourballs as she and partner Suzann Pettersen beat Danielle Kang and Lizette Salas by 4 and 2.

Pettersen led the way with a 60-foot putt for a winning birdie at the fourth, before the Dutch star went on a putting spree and the partnership was four up by the turn.

"I was so relaxed," said Van Dam, who covered the 16 holes in four under par. "Suzann told me to enjoy it and I nearly made birdie at the first and got on a roll. It was great."

Pettersen, playing in her ninth Solheim, added: “I had the best partner today. She’s a superstar who just bombs it.”

Ally McDonald, who only stepped into the US team when Stacy Lewis withdrew injured on Tuesday, was another outstanding newcomer, joining Angel Yin in an emphatic 7 and 5 victory over Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Hedwall.

It equalled the record margin for a fourball victory, and McDonald couldn’t have been happier.

"I was so anxious before I went out," she admitted. "But I am so excited to get a point on the board. We were just like ham and eggs - great together."

The USA came into the match with a 10-5 record, but Europe have a perfect record in Scotland after winning at Dalmahoy in 1992 and again at Loch Lomond in 2000.

"A little disappointed, but we are one point up so overall quite plaesed," said the European Captain, Scot Catriona Matthew.

"Anne Van Dam played great and tomorrow is another long day. We just have to keep at it."

The Kordas also shone in the foursomes with a resounding 6 and 4 victory over Caroline Masson and Jodi Ewart Shadoff.

"It was great playing with my sister," said Jessica, five years older at 26. "It doesn’t matter if one of us hits a bad shot -- we just feel very comfortable together."

However, that was the Americans only victory of the morning session.

The top match was halved between Ciganda and Law and Morgan Pressel and Marina Alex.

European victories came from the pairings of Hall and Celine Boutier and Hull and Munoz.

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