By Elspeth Burnside
DUNSANY, Ireland (Reuters) - Europe face a monumental task in their bid to beat the United States at this week's Solheim Cup for only the fourth time in 12 editions despite holding home advantage.
The Americans heavily outgun their hosts when it comes to world rankings and they bristle with players who have become accustomed to winning ways in the biennial team competition.
"This is my sixth match and I've only been in one winning team," Norwegian world number two Suzann Pettersen told reporters ahead of Friday's start at Killeen Castle.
"But the rest (of the matches) have all been so close and I think this is one of the strongest European teams. We just have to go out and believe in ourselves.
"We need to play well on Friday and Saturday and hopefully be ahead going into the final day singles. The crowd will be on our side and they could be our 15th club in the bag."
Pettersen is the highest-ranked player on either team but she is the only European in the world's top 20. In stark contrast, the U.S. boast seven players in the top 20.
Though the Americans will be bidding to clinch the trophy for a fourth consecutive time, veteran Juli Inkster has played down the favorite tag for the visiting team.
"I think this is the deepest the Europeans have been in terms of strength," said the 51-year-old, who is the oldest player ever to compete in a Solheim Cup.
"They have five rookies on their side but they are all playing well. We are going to go out and play like underdogs."
Inkster is breaking new ground this week as she will be the first player to compete in the Solheim Cup while taking on a dual role as assistant U.S. captain.
World number three Cristie Kerr and eighth-ranked Paula Creamer, who is unbeaten in Solheim singles, head a strong U.S. line-up where two newcomers with a point to prove are Vicky Hurst and Ryann O'Toole.
Hurst, ranked 78th in the world, and O'Toole, a lowly 102nd, were both wildcard picks by U.S. captain Rosie Jones.
Stacy Lewis is the third rookie on the U.S. team but she already has a major title, having won this year's Kraft Nabisco Championship. She also posted a proud 5-0 winning record in the 2008 Curtis Cup amateur team competition in Scotland.
For Europe, 47-year-old Briton Laura Davies continues her amazing Solheim run, having played in all 11 previous editions.
"The Solheim has changed so much since the first one at Lake Nona (in Florida) in 1990," said Davies. "This team is as good as we've ever had."
There are five rookies on Alison Nicholas's European team -- Sandra Gal, Caroline Hedwall, Azahara Munoz, Christel Boeljon and Melissa Reid.
One player who will command a great deal of attention this week will be American Michelle Wie, who made a spectacular Solheim debut in 2009 at Rich Harvest Farms in Illinois.
Wie ended that week unbeaten, recording three wins and a half, to showcase her massive potential which, arguably, is still so unfulfilled with just two victories on the LPGA Tour.
"Last time, I felt like a freshman at college," the 21-year-old Hawaiian said. "This time I have some experience but it is my first time in Ireland and my first Solheim overseas. It's the greatest honor to represent the U.S.
(Editing by Mark Lamport Stokes)