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12th Solheim Cup Preview

You have to appreciate a leader who isn't afraid of his or her decisions.

Sure, the calls may backfire horribly, but the personal conviction with which he or she makes them is what's to be commended. The leader knows it might not work out, but he or she is okay with that, because he or she embraces the magnitude of the moment.

Take, for example, Rosie Jones, the United States Solheim Cup captain.

She chose Ryan O'Toole with one of her picks for this week's Solheim Cup, coming to you from Killeen Castle in Ireland on Friday morning.

Granted, Jones didn't have much to pick from in the pool. Her 10 automatic qualifiers represent the best in female American golf with Cristie Kerr, Morgan Pressel, Paula Creamer and Michelle Wie.

So Jones went on a limb and took the long-hitting O'Toole, despite the fact O'Toole only played a handful of LPGA Tour events in her career. People would've been less shocked if she pegged Peter O'Toole, but it's Jones' team and she wanted O'Toole.

Again, pickings were slim and that problem wasn't exclusive to the American side.

Jones' top 10 qualifiers featured Juli Inkster, 51, who was so confident her time was up on the Solheim Cup team as a player, she accepted a post as an assistant captain. Inkster finished ninth on the points list and will be pulling double-duty.

"I will be a player first and an assistant captain second and Rosie understands that," Inkster said. "I feel like most of my career I've worn two hats as a mom and as a player, but it will be a challenge."

Christina Kim finished 10th on the American side. She hasn't posted a single top 10 in 2011, not a one.

Maybe O'Toole doesn't seem crazy anymore.

Alison Nicholas of the European team had it no different.

After her eight automatic qualifiers were set, Nicholas tabbed Sandra Gal, Caroline Hedwall, Azahara Munoz and Karen Stupples. Gal won on the LPGA Tour this year, while Hedwall has two European Ladies victories in '11. Munoz hasn't seen the winner's circle in two years and Stupples' last trophy came about seven years ago.

These two teams are a little short on depth and in 2011, they're short of victories.

Norway's Suzann Pettersen is the best player on either side and she has two LPGA Tour victories. Gal and Maria Hjorth are fellow Europeans to win this season.

The number is even smaller for the American side. Brittany Lincicome has two titles and Stacy Lewis, the only rookie to automatically qualify for the U.S. team, won the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

It's hard to win on tour when Yani Tseng wins about one-third of all the events, but the Solheim Cup isn't about championships, or top 10s, or big careers - it's a showcase for passionate golf.

The ladies wear temporary tattoos of American or European flags on their cheeks. They have hair bands made of the respective flags. You'll hear chants and in some cases songs. Inkster might dance. Kim will dance.

Lousy moves and fading paint only get you so far.

On the course, the U.S. has dominated the Solheim Cup. It has won the last three and two years ago, triumphed to the very comfortable tune of 16-12.

According to the world rankings, the Americans have the advantage once again. Kerr, Creamer and Lincicome are all ranked in the top 10, while Pettersen is the lone European. Lewis, Wie, Pressel and Angela Stanford are in the top 20. The only other Euro in the top 20 is Hjorth.

Home-field advantage means something. The galleries will be pro-Europe, but is that enough to carry Europe? Probably not, but there are a few reasons to like a European upset.

As is always the case in the Solheim Cup, people don't know the names on the European side, but they're world-class players. Christel Boeljon, Hedwall and Melissa Reid have each enjoyed big seasons on the 2011 Ladies European Tour, combining for nine wins or runner-ups. Reid won the Open de Espana on Sunday.

If you want battle-tested veterans, it's hard to imagine more weathered tough gals than Laura Davies, Catriona Matthew or Sophie Gustafson. They've combined for 23 previous Solheim Cups. The whole U.S. team has 27 between the 12.

While neither team has 12 interchangeable parts, the European depth is probably a little more impressive. O'Toole hasn't made a cut since she was named to the team. Vicky Hurst, the other captain's pick, hasn't contended in that time. Kim is still no where to be found.

Gal, Hedwall and Munoz have all won since Kim or Inkster last visited the winner's circle. Again, this European team is sneaky tough.

To that end, Europe will win the Solheim Cup.

The studs of the American team - Kerr, Creamer and Wie - are winless this year. Kerr actually missed the cut last week at the Navistar LPGA Classic. The bottom end of the team might prove to be a liability. It's one thing to be playing poorly, but it's another to be unproven in big spots like O'Toole and Hurst are.

Munoz and Stupples are the weakest Europeans and at least they've won professionally. Stupples even has a major at the Women's British Open.

The tide may change only for a year, but it'll be Europe's year.