Saturday, December 4

Europe retains Solheim Cup after thrilling win over USA | Solheim Cup


“Good times never seemed so good,” chanted the delusional players from Europe. You can bet they didn’t. Just a second Solheim Cup win for those in blue and yellow on American soil. This one came without a travel stand. Take a bow, Catriona Matthew, who has captained her team to consecutive wins.

Naked statistics belie the story of an exceptional day under the Toledo sun. This should be a watershed moment for women’s golf. Too bad that Solheim’s switch to even-numbered years doesn’t happen until 2024. The level of play at the Inverness Club was truly exceptional.

At one point, Matthew’s players, who only needed four points Monday to retain, were ahead in eight games. A fierce homely response followed. Europe kept its nerves; even pouring salt on the wounds of the Americans by winning emphatically, 15-13.

Matthew will never match the professional feats of winning a Major just 11 weeks after giving birth, but his captaincy efforts against long-awaited American teams are worthy of high praise. “This is sweet,” said the Scotsman, with the typical understatement.

It had to be Matilda Castren. As recently as last October, the Finn hadn’t finished in the top 15 on any professional tour. She won the Symetra Tour, which elevated her to the LPGA Tour. Greater success there, in June, made him realize that Castren was not a member of the Ladies European Tour and was therefore eligible for the Solheim Cup. He flew back to his home continent, won in Finland in July, and the rest is sports history. Matthew and the European contingent jumped for joy when Castren made the putt that confirmed that Europe would not return the trophy to the United States.

Leona Maguire – who else? – led the first European charge. The Irish rookie made sure to claim four and a half points out of a possible five by knocking Jennifer Kupcho to the side, 5 and 4. Maguire accelerated the pair by five seconds and didn’t look back; his performance here has drawn heroes from around the golf course. She was huge in every session.

“I have given absolutely everything,” Maguire said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better week.” Maguire is the first silent assassin to carry a nine wood.

Europe’s second point came from Madelene Sagström, who defeated Ally Ewing 3 & 2. Celine Boutier added more blue to the board, courtesy of a 5 and 4 crush from Mina Harigae. Europe now needed only two points to retain; three of Matthew’s team were ahead, but two to one only up.

The last epic battle between Lexi Thompson and Anna Nordqvist ended, fittingly, in a half game. Nordqvist had been up one after seven, with Thompson leading at ninth. Nordqvist again advanced with a birdie three on 15, but Thompson restored parity a hole later.

With America desperately in need of inspiration, attention to Nelly Korda. The world number one endured a difficult Solheim Cup, in part due to the reaction to benefiting from a high-profile rules controversy on day one. It is widely described that Korda was upset by the feeling that she was unsportsmanlike or unfair during that fourball episode. When Georgia Hall moved to two within just four holes, Korda’s Solheim horribilis seemed ready to go. Instead, Korda replied; she was two up on the turn and closed a first singles point for the United States with a one up win. “Getting to number one this week is not easy,” Korda admitted.

As Megan Khang edged towards a win over Sophia Popov (the final margin was 3 and 2) and Jessica Korda dragged Charley Hull two into the square, the United States had a pulse. Carlota Ciganda looked poised to deliver a European point, but went from two up after 12 to tie with Brittany Altomare on the 15th tee. Emily Pedersen led Danielle Kang in the fair final; Europe really didn’t want it to come down to that, especially in such a partisan atmosphere. Jessica Korda increased the pressure by winning the 14th, thus taking the lead for the first time in her confrontation with Hull. They couldn’t … could they?

Two key moments soon arrived. Austin Ernst was tame with an 18 green putt that would have claimed a win over Nanna Koerstz Madsen. Lizette Salas passed up the opportunity to square her match with Castren on the 17th. Europe was a home point, with Castren guaranteed 50% of that. Pedersen had shown resistance to go up three after 14. He later delivered the final act of the day, sealing a victory.

From 140 yards and the middle of the fairway at last, Castren pushed his ball into a plugged lie in a bunker on the green. Advantage Salas, who left an opportunity for a birdie. Salas’s attempt anguishly slipped past the hole, leaving Castren with 12 feet to retain the Solheim Cup for Europe. The 26-year-old prolonged her fairy tale.


www.theguardian.com

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