Golf Digest WomanAugust 23, 2009

Solheim Cup intangibles favor....who knows?

SUGAR GROVE, Ill. - Solheim Cup captains Beth Daniel for the United States and Alison Nicholas for Europe have adopted similar strategies for Sunday singles play. They each put fire power up front - Paula Creamer versus Suzann Pettersen in the opening singles matches - and saved some hot players for late - Cristie Kerr and Morgan Pressel for the U.S side and Maria Hjorth and Anna Nordqvist for Europe.

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While Nicholas has to be happy going into Sunday singles tied at 8-8, there are two facts that have to put a damper on and European enthusiasm. The first is that Europe has never won on American soil, trailing 7-3 overall, and the second is that Europe has never won with fewer than 9¿ points going into singles play.

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Remember this also: There has never really been a close finish in the Solheim Cup. The winning margin has never been less than three points, and the average winning margin is 4.8 points. The chance of a blowout is still very real, although Europe - and especially its Ladies European Tour members - are playing with the special sense of urgency that comes from being an under-appreciated underdog.

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Among the more fascinating match-ups in singles: Michelle Wie, who is having what could prove to be a breakout week, against the mercurial Helen Alfredsson. Both are capable of being really good or spending the entire round searching for a swing and a putting stroke. Sophie Gustafson and Brittany Lincicome pits two of the longest hitters in the woman's game, both of whom occasionally need a road map to find a fairway. And Janice Moodie and Natalie Gulbis  could turn out to be a fascinating, and unexpected, final match.

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While the Americans have spent all week denying that they are the overwhelming favorites - accusing the media of over-blowing that angle despite the simple reality that four European players are outside the top 125 in the Rolex Rankings while no American is lower than No. 51 - the home team still goes into singles the clear favorite.

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In the history of the competition, the U.S. side has a 23-point advantage in singles play. But more relevantly, the 12 Americans here this week have a combined singles record of 15-6-0 while the Europeans on the roster are 17-18-4.  But it is worth noting that 49-year-old Juli Inkster has six of those Americans singles wins and than no other U.S. team member has won more than twice in singles. Europe, meanwhile, has Catriona Matthew (3), Alfredsson (4) and Lauara Davies (5) with more than two singles victories.

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Daniel goes into single with the better rested team. No one has played more than three matches for the Americans while both Pettersen and Hjorth will go the full five matches for Europe. The thing to look for today is the two great intangibles: The adrenaline boost of the home crowd for the Americans and the attitude enhancer of being the underdog for Europe.

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This competition could still go either way, but if you had asked Daniel on Monday if she would like her chances going into singles tied 8-8 she would have taken it in a heart beat. The Americans traditionally own singles. But there are these two inescapable factors to also consider: Match pay is the great equalizer. And momentum is an unpredictable houseguest. You never know who who it will visit first or, more importantly, last.