Europe on cusp of Solheim Cup win
Everywhere she turned, U.S. captain Meg Mallon saw one great shot after another Saturday in the Solheim Cup.
Almost all of them were by the other team.
Mallon was standing behind the tee on the par-3 17th when Anna Nordqvist hit 7-iron into the mile-high air to a back pin, never leaving its target until it bounced into the cup for an ace and an abrupt end to a foursomes match. Nearly eight hours later, she was behind the 18th green and hopeful of getting a half-point out of the last match to at least salvage some momentum going into the last day.
Karine Icher rolled in a 45-foot birdie putt from just off the green and yet another European point.
That was the final blow for a European team that stunned the Americans with a shutout in the afternoon for a 10 1/2-5 1/2 lead, matching the largest margin in Solheim Cup history and leaving the Europeans on the verge of their first victory away from home.
”It’s obviously my dream to be able to win this cup over here for the first time,” European captain Liselotte Neumann said. ”So to make some history, it will be amazing.”
Mallon still managed a smile when she sat down to go over the Sunday singles lineup. She removed her sunglasses and said, ”Can you see the shock on my face?”
Europe owned the day.
Neumann rested her three top players. She sent out five rookies for fourballs, starting with Jodi Ewart-Shadoff and 17-year-old Charley Hull who combined for nine birdies in a 2-up win over 18-year-old Lexi Thompson and Paula Creamer. Carlota Ciganda was spraying the ball all over Colorado Golf Club until meeting up with assistant captain Annika Sorenstam on the range. She ended her match with a 12-foot birdie putt for another European point.
”Today for the Europeans, it was a magical day for that team,” Mallon said.
The star for Europe has been Caroline Hedwall of Sweden. She is the only player on either team who will play all five matches, with a chance to become the first player in Solheim Cup history to go 5-0.
Mallon can only hope for some history of her own, and it’s a long shot.
No team has ever rallied from more than two points behind going into the Sunday singles. The Europeans only need to win three matches and halve another out of 12 singles to capture the cup away from home for the first time, and retain the cup for the first time since this event began in 1990.
”It’s a wonderful feeling,” Neumann said. ”These girls played their hearts out. It’s awesome. It was a fantastic afternoon.”
Hull and Ewart-Shadoff were all square when the precocious English teen hit 9-iron just over the bunker on the par-3 17th to 4 feet for a birdie to go 1 up. Ewart-Shadoff did the rest, smashing a tee shot some 30 yards by the big-hitting Thompson, leaving only a 9-iron into the green on the 435-yard, uphill closing hole. Her 10-foot birdie putt was conceded, and European blue filled the rest of the scoreboard.
Mallon had spoken earlier Saturday about the importance of the last match to take momentum into Sunday.
”Every Solheim Cup, it seems, comes down to that Saturday afternoon last much, and momentum that happens after that,” she said. ”I’m hoping, in this case, that it’s a momentum of my team turning it around tomorrow. Obviously, it’s daunting. I’m not being Pollyanna about this, but I really feel like the lineup I have, and this team, can do it.
”They all played their hearts out today,” she said. ”No one gave up on me today, not one player. And I know they’re not going to give up on me tomorrow.”
She has stacked her lineup, sending Stacy Lewis, Creamer, Brittany Lang and Morgan Pressel out first.
Mallon felt much better after the morning session of foursomes, when Wie and Lang rallied from 2 down at the turn to beat Beatriz Recari and Suzann Pettersen, and Lewis won her first point by teaming with Creamer for a 1-up win. Her team had a chance to tie the score until Catriona Matthew holed a 7-foot putt as she and Masson won the last two holes to earn a halve.
Still, the Americans closed the gap to one point and had momentum.
It didn’t last long. The Americans didn’t have the lead in a single fourballs match on the back nine.
Leading the way was Hull, who was dynamic in the best match of the day. Hull and Ewart-Shadoff combined for a better-ball score of 63, making five straight birdies at one point. Creamer and Thompson shot 31 on the front nine and still trailed.
Hull twice rolled in birdie putts around the turn with the Americans in close for birdie. Ewart-Shadoff hit driver on the 295-yard 14th hole, a shot that never left the flag and settled some 25 feet behind the cup for a two-putt birdie to win the hole and regain the lead.
With the match all square, Hull hit a 9-iron to a front pin on No. 17 that looked good all the way.
”I never had a hole-in-one before, so I thought when it pitched on the ground, I thought, `Well, this could be my chance to get one.’ But it rolled up about 4 feet,” Hull said. ”And then I was quite nervous over the 4-footer, and then I rolled it in. It was just great.”
Still, the dagger came from Icher that that remarkable putt.
”I just tried to find a good speed for the putt, because I was downhill and the putt went in,” she said. ”So it’s very important to have won this match. A half-point is always a half-point. Tomorrow it can make the difference.”
The Solheim Cup endured another black eye in officiating, this time on a different hole. A rules official allowed Ciganda to take an incorrect drop on the 15th hole after a 30-minute ruling on the opening day. On Saturday, Recari and Cristie Kerr both went into the hazard on the 16th hole, and neither player could agree where it entered the hazard. After 31 minutes, they both took their drop. By then, the entire American team had gathered around the 18th green to watch the finish. It should have known the outcome.
Six out of the 16 matches have gone to the 18th hole, with Europe winning four of them and halving another.