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Squaring up in matchplay
At Gleneagles this week, the three young rookies who have made such an impact on the Evian Ladies' European Tour this season - Suzann Pettersen, Karine Icher and Paula Marti - will get a chance to really prove that they are ready to take over from the old guard.

The WPGA International Matchplay Tournament involves 32 of the finest women's players, and the three youngsters will be aiming to confirm that
their strokeplay form and the gutsy, confident attitude that they have displayed on the regular circuit can be transferred into head to head
combat.

If they do, then they will have taken another major step towards next year's Solheim Cup team, and Europe's defence of the trophy at Interlachen
in Minnesota in 12 months' time.

Last week, Icher, from France, joined Spain's Marti (Italian Open and British Masters) as a season's double winner by adding the Dutch Open to her win two weeks previously in the German Open.

Incredibly, she carded an 11 (the tale of woe included two lost balls and three putts at the par five 12th) in her final round level par 72, but she showed tremendous fighting spirit to go on and collect the title with a 12 foot birdie putt at the third hole of a sudden-death play-off.

Pettersen was her extra-time victim, and the Norwegian, who had also finished runner-up in the German Open, generously conceded: 'That's two-nil
to Karine. I've no complaints. She made a great comeback, and deserved to win.'

Pettersen had already showed her battling spirit when she beat Wales' Becky Morgan in a play-off to win the French Open back in June, and the 20-year-old remains the favourite to lift the European Rookie of the Year
title. She is lying third on the Order of Merit, while Icher is fourth and Marti is seventh. But nothing will be decided finally until the final event of the season, the Biarritz Open, at the end of this month.

But back to this week, and the battle for glory over the PGA Centenary course. Pettersen is seeded ninth, and could face Solheim stalwart Trish Johnson in her second match, while Icher, the no 15 seed, is on course for a tussle with Scotland's no two seed, Catriona Matthew, at the same stage.

Marti is the no 16 seed, and so should clash with the favourite, Swede Sophie Gustafson.

Apart from talent, the common bond between the three early 20-somethings is that they are all brimming with confidence and total self-belief.

Not one would concede that they are in any way surprised by their superb season's from. In fact, Pettersen's attitude has already managed to raise
the hackles of the one of the tour's elder stateswomen, Laura Davies.

Davies played with Suzann, whose mother, Mona, is her caddie, at the Compaq Open in Sweden, and was less than impressed.

Suzann does have a habit of showing her temper - she thumps clubs back into her bag, and she wasn't playing well that particular week (she just made the cut on eight over par).

But what really upset Davies were the comments - 'at least I didn't lose to an old hag' - that were printed in a Norwegian newspaper and attributed to
Pettersen after she lost to Icher in the German Open.

Davies took it personally, although Pettersen strongly denies that she ever made such remarks, and she is hoping to get together with the Briton at Gleneagles to smooth the troubled waters.

But it all adds a little extra spice to a matchplay tournament, and Scot Dale Reid, who is also in the field, will be an interested observer to all the goings on as she begins her assessment of who she wants in her 2002 Solheim Cup team. The captain has already acknowledged the rise of youth by saying: 'The older players really do need to get the finger out.'


©    5 - SEPTEMBER 2001



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