The 2011 Solheim Cup Tournament Preview

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The 2011 Solheim Cup is set to kick off this Friday at Killeen Castle in Ireland and there is plenty of excitement building around this year's U.S. and European teams. With the days ticking down to the start of the biennial event, let's break down the two teams and see how they stack up against each other.

BIGGEST STRENGTH
Team USA: Youthful energy
As Juli Inkster has said, the Americans are a young team besides her. At 51 years old, Inkster is the oldest competitor in the event's history but the rest of the U.S. team is relatively youthful. While three of the Europeans -- Laura Davies, Sophie Gustafson, and Catriona Matthew -- have combined to make 23 Solheim Cup appearances, the entire U.S. squad has combined for 27 and that includes eight by Inkster. But although Team USA may not have the same veteran presence as the European squad, it's a group with a lot of heart and Inkster believes that could be its best asset.
  Team Europe: Home-field advantage
The Europeans are coming off three straight losses in the Solheim Cup and are considered to be the underdogs once again this year. But all three of Team Europe's wins in the Solheim Cup have come on home soil and there should be plenty of support for them at Killeen Castle. With five talented rookies to combine with a core of Solheim Cup veterans, could this be the year that Europe ends its drought?

ROOKIE TO WATCH
Team USA: Stacy Lewis
It seems strange to call Lewis a rookie considering that she's been making headlines on the LPGA Tour since 2007 when she finished tied for fifth at the Kraft Nabisco Championship as an amateur. Lewis is no stranger to team competition and set a record at the 2008 Curtis Cup by going 5-0 in competition. Expect her to play a significant role for this year's U.S. team.
  Team Europe: Melissa Reid
Reid has been one of the most successful players on the Ladies European Tour in recent years, finishing third in the Order of Merit in 2010. Reid is coming into the event on a high, having won the LET's Open de Espana last week. It was Reid's second win of the season and the England native finished first in the points race for this year's European Solheim team.

MOST FEARED SINGLES OPPONENT
Team USA: Paula Creamer
Creamer's undefeated 3-0-0 record in Solheim Cup singles play speaks for itself. The dynamic and tenacious Pink Panther has been playing well as of late recording four consecutive top-20 finishes prior to this week including fourth at the Safeway Classic Presented by Coca-Cola.
  Team Europe: Suzann Pettersen
Ask any player who would be the toughest match-play opponent and Pettersen would likely rank near the top of the list. The Oslo, Norway native walked away with the 2011 Sybase Match Play title this year, beating Kerr on the 18th hole in the final match. And despite her winless singles record in the Solheim Cup (0-3-2), Pettersen will likely play a pivotal role come Sunday if Europe is to win.

WILD CARD
Team USA: Ryann O'Toole
The most surprising moment leading up to this year's Solheim Cup was when U.S. captain Rosie Jones selected the rookie as one of her two captain's picks. O'Toole had played in just 8 LPGA events at the time of her selection and has missed three straight cuts since garnering a spot on the team. But the long-hitter brings with her a fiery nature and a passion to win that could be an asset for Team USA.
  Team Europe: Caroline Hedwall
Hedwall has been very impressive in her rookie season on the LET Tour. The 22-year-old, who had a spectacular amateur career, has captured 3 wins on the LET so far this season and is one of the most talked about players heading into this year's Solheim Cup. A native of Sweden, Hedwall has been compared to fellow teammate Suzann Pettersen early in her career and the captain's pick by European captain Alison Nicholas could wind up being a big factor.

CRAFTY VETERANS
Team USA: Juli Inkster
Making her ninth Solheim Cup appearance, look for Inkster's experience to play a crucial role for the U.S. team. On a team that consists of three rookies, the trio will rely on Inkster to learn the pivotal ins and outs of this historic event. This week, Inkster will divide her time between assistant captain and player as she is coming off a tie for 14th finish at the Navistar LPGA Classic Presented by Monaco RV which included a hole-in-one during the third round of play. Look for Inkster to shine during singles play this week as the fiery veteran boasts an impressive 6-1-1 resume.
  Team Europe: Laura Davies
A fan favorite among many, Davies brings nine years of veteran experience to the less experienced European team. While Davies' resume includes 81 professional victories worldwide, the World Golf Hall of Fame member boasts a 21-17-5 record in Solheim Cup play. Davies, who is considered to be one of the most decorative golfers to have ever played the game, will imply veteran knowledge to attempt to bring the cup back to Europe.

MOST TEAM SPIRIT
Team USA: Christina Kim
If 2009 is any indication of Kim's patriotic pride, look for this LPGA veteran to exude red, white and blue from her veins. While Kim has missed two consecutive cuts on the LPGA Tour, that certainly won't stop her from celebrating proudly and competing passionately with her fellow Americans.
  Team Europe: Azahara Munoz
Munoz might be a Solheim Cup rookie but look for her fiery and passionate personality to take center stage this week. Much like her fellow countryman Sergio Garcia, Munoz's pride for her country will shine this week as the culmination of celebrating solid play and cheering on her teammates will make her Europe's biggest cheerleader.

THE LONG KNOCKERS
Team USA: Michelle Wie
Michelle Wie, also known The Big Wiesy for her length off the tee, will rely on her driving distance to maneuver around the lengthy Kileen Castle. With a driving average of 266.1 yards, Wie is currently third in driving distance on the LPGA Tour.
  Team Europe: Maria Hjorth
Ranked second in driving distance on the LPGA Tour, Maria Hjorth is the longest hitter of both squads with a driving average of 266.7 yards. Despite Hjorth's stellar 2011 season, she has failed to win a match during her previous four Solheim Cup appearances. Feeling more confident than ever, Hjorth has already won once this year on the LPGA Tour and has failed to miss a cut all season.

CONSISTENCY QUEENS
Team USA: Cristie Kerr
Cristie Kerr should change her middle name to consistent as this LPGA Tour veteran has only missed one cut in the past three years. Despite coming off a missed cut at last week's Navistar LPGA Classic Presented by Monaco RV, Kerr will provide the U.S. team with a consistent game they can surely rely on.
  Team Europe: Karen Stupples
Playing in only her second Solheim Cup, Stupples has recorded six top-20 finishes during this season's LPGA Tour. She also ranks amongst the top-25 in rounds under par and scoring average on the LPGA. Her stats combine to make Stupples a consistent and dominate force on this ear's European squad.

Topics: Lewis, Stacy, Creamer, Paula, Pettersen, Suzann, Hedwall, Caroline, Inkster, Juli, Davies, Laura, Kim, Christina, Munoz, Azahara, Wie, Michelle, McBride, Maria, Kerr, Cristie, Stupples, Karen [+]