COUNTY MEATH, Ireland -- Quite simply, the twelfth staging of the Solheim Cup might be the most important in the history of the event. With the United States coming into Killeen Castle off three consecutive routs over Europe and holding an 8-3 advantage overall, another blowout by the Yanks is likely to trigger talk of how to level the playing field.
When the U.S. reduced the Ryder Cup to a couple of cocktail parties packaged around a biennial trouncing of Great Britain & Ireland, the fix was easy. And since GB&I added the European continent in 1979 -- thanks, Seve -- that contest has emerged as one of the most compelling and intensely competitive events in all of golf.
Suzann Pettersen leads a Euro team trying to end a losing streak to the U.S.
But that is not an option for the Solheim Cup. Seven of the 12 players are already from the continent. The concern among traditionalists who want to see the event continue to grow and the rivalry allowed to intensify is that there will be pressure to add either a third team from the rest of the world or simply make Europe a world team.
The sheer numbers are staggering. Europe has only one top-20 player from the Rolex Rankings this year: No. 2 Suzann Pettersen. The American have seven: No. 3 Cristie Kerr, No. 8 Paula Creamer, No. 9 Brittany Lincicome, No. 10 Stacy Lewis, No. 12 Michelle Wie, No. 14 Morgan Pressel and No. 16 Angela Stanford.
(Related: Meet the 2012 U.S. Solheim Cup team)
But a rest-of-the-world team could field a squad entirely of the Rolex Rankings top 20: No. 1 Yani Tseng, No. 4 Na Yeon Choi, No. 5 Jiyai Shin, No. 6 Sun Ju Ahn, No. 7 Ai Miyazato, No. 11 I.K. Kim, No. 13 Karrie Webb, No. 15 Inbee Park, No. 17 Chie Arimura, No. 18 Amy Yang, No. 19 Sakura Yokomine and No. 20 Song-Hee Kim.
And if you only went 10-deep on the international team from the Rolex Rankings and wanted to add a couple of captains picks instead, No. 35 Se Ri Pak wouldn't be a bad choice, nor would U.S. Women's Open winner So-Yeon Ryu (No. 25) or No. 26 Hee Kyung Seo, who Ryu defeated in the playoff at the Broadmoor in July.
All that said, this is an event that has been on the ropes before. The first time after the very first competition, won easily by the Americans. The second followed three consecutive wins by the U.S. in Solheim Cups three, four and five. But the three-match win streak by the Americans now is more significant because of the ascendancy of Asian players.
If Europe loses, it means that by the time the 2013 Solheim Cup is played at Colorado GC it will have been 10 years since Europe last won -- at Barseback, Sweden in 2003. Asked what that would mean for the future of the event, Pettersen said: "That's a good question. This is my sixth Solheim Cup and we have won once." Still, she likes her chances.
"This is the best team I have been apart of," she said Wednesday at Killeen Castle as harsh rain and wicked wind buffeted the media center. "Yes, we can beat them."
Pettersen's Solheim Cup record is pretty much a snapshot of the differences between the two teams. In seven four-ball matches, Pettersen has five wins and a halve and in nine foursome contest she's won four times and halved two. But she has yet to win any of her five singles matches, managing two halves.
The European players on this year's team have a combined record of 45-36-20 in the four-ball and foursomes but are only 11-18-5 in singles. The Americans are a combined 18-6-3 in singles.
"We need to play really well Friday and Saturday," Pettersen said about the matches before singles. "We need to be even or ahead going to Sunday. But all of our 12 players can beat any of their players."
Both Pettersen and Juli Inkster, who is making her ninth Solheim Cup appearance and is the all-time American point winner, say the last three matches were not as ones sided as the final scores indicate - two by 16-12 and the other 15.5-12.5.
(Related: Meet the 2012 European Solheim Cup team)
"Every year, it feels like it is so close," says Pettersen. "Why have we lost? Unlucky. Last year the Americans made the putts on the back nine on Sunday."
Some would dispute that making putts under pressure falls under the category of luck. Inkster, who is 6-1-1 in singles play, agrees however that the final scores have not been true indications of the intensity of the matches.
"The last three were close right to the last day," said Inkster, 51, who will become the oldest Solheim Cup competitor when play starts Friday and the first assistant captain to also play, although Kathy Whitworth has stepped in to help captain Rosie Jones with the assistant duties.
Inkster is also adamantly against making any changes to the composition of the Solheim Cup teams. "I think sometimes you just have to stick with tradition," she said. "We tend to feel like we always have to tweak everything, and we don't."
Then she said something that players on both sides feel about the matches ahead. "I think this is the deepest Europe has ever been," Inkster said. "Their [five] rookies have been playing well. I don't know why you guys think we are the favorite."
Playing in Ireland will help. Europe has never won a road game. Passionate crowd support is expected, despite the fact there are no Irish players on the European team. And then there is the particularly personal nature of match play.
"The great thing about match play," says Inkster, "Is that it is only one day. Anyone can beat anyone once." Still, it might be wise for Europe to rack up as many points as it can before Sunday's singles. Otherwise, that victory drought will be a decade long going into Colorado in 2013.
-- Ron Sirak
(Photo: Darren Carroll/Getty Images)