Europe Outlasts U.S. at Dramatic Solheim Cup Finish

by Jeff Skinner

On a day that had everything, rain delays, lightning delays, wind, sunshine, a forfeit, tight matches and some plain old butt whippings, The Solheim Cup gave us all we could want and more.  With both teams starting the day tied at eight points the stage was set for a dramatic finish to the twelfth Solheim Cup.

Both teams were primed for a fiercely competitive day and they provided just that.  The European team lead by Captain Alison Nicholas and world number two Suzann Pettersen led an miraculous comeback over the last few holes as the American team looked poised to retain the cup.  It was a display of sheer determination and pure will that allowed the Europeans to out duel the U.S. to a 15-13 win.  Pettersen led her team to victory as she birdied the last three holes to defeat Michelle Wie in a classic Solheim Cup match.  When rookie Ryann O’Toole lost her lead to rookie Caroline Hedwall at the eighteenth hole, Europe had earned enough points to win the cup for the first time since 2003.  It was an electrifying day of golf.

The first match of the day set a somber tone for the U.S. as one of their stars couldn’t find her game.  Paula Creamer struggled right out of the gate missing a par putt for a win on the first hole and before she could put her rain suit on found herself 3 down after four holes to Catriona Matthew.  But it got worse for the U.S.  About that time Super Solheim Player, Cristie Kerr was in tears as she tried to warm up but couldn’t hit a shot due to a wrist injury.

Kerr had played through minor pain for the first two days competing in all four sessions.  When she began to warm up today she was in too much pain to compete and had to withdraw.  Per the Solheim Cup Captain’s agreement the European team was awarded a point.  It was a devastating blow to the U.S. to see their leader standing beside them, right arm in a sling, instead of taking down her opponent.

It was going horribly wrong for the U.S. and it got worse for Creamer.  Under horrible conditions, Scotland’s Catriona Matthew must have felt at home in the rain as she played exquisite golf and piled it on a struggling Creamer.  Mercifully, it ended at the thirteenth hole with a 6 & 5 victory.

I wasn’t all bad for the Americans at the start.  Stacy Lewis was looking to keep her momentum going from her first win in three sessions at yesterday afternoon’s fourballs and took a 1 up lead over Sophie Gustafson at the first.  Lewis kept her lead until the sixth but lost back to back holes to her gritty opponent.  Showing grit of her own she got it to all square at the ninth.  Her bogey at ten put her 1 down and the two battled that way to the eighteenth where Gustafson birdied and took a 2 up point for the Euros.  Lewis was a disappointing 1-3 for the week.

Few Americans are as determined as Morgan Pressel and she showed her colors as she came back from an early 2 down deficit to win her point for the U.S.  She admittedly wasn’t sharp to start and fell back of Anna Nordqvist, 2 down after three holes.  As the rain came down she was visibly annoyed that play continued with water pooling on the greens.  During the first rain delay she spoke with good friend Kerr and told her she would win the match for her.  It was a different match when play resumed.  Pressell ripped off five straight wins to go from 2 down to 3 up and looked to be in command as Nordqvist appeared to come undone for a few holes.  Pressel’s two putt par at the seventeenth notched her win and gave the U.S. some much needed hope.  At the beginning of the Cup it would have been ridiculous to think that the U.S. team would get only one point out of stars Kerr, Creamer and Morgan on Sunday afternoon.

The fourth match of the day pitted longtime rivals Juli Inkster and Laura Davies.  Even though they have played against one another for years, they never faced off in singles at a Solheim Cup.  Neither of them was at their best but Inkster went out to a 2 up lead and then proceeded to miss every makeable putt she saw.  Davies was out driving Inkster by miles but was also playing from plenty of places besides the fairway.  They traded blows all day with Davies in control with a 1 up lead at fourteen that she carried into eighteen.  Both players bunkered their approaches but Inkster nearly holed her bunker shot and was conceded her par.  Davies needed to get up and down to half the hole but her sand shot ran way past the hole and she couldn’t convert her putt.  Inkster stole a half a point from her good friend when it looked like Davies would surely win.

Rookies Melissa Reid and Vicky Hurst are two of the new faces at The Solheim Cup and Reid had played much better than her 1-2-0 record indicates.  She had faced all of the marquee players from the U.S. and this may have looked like a potential mismatch and a point for the Europeans.  But Vicky Hurst bounced back from her loss in her lone appearance to take an early lead only to see it disappear at the sixth but with back to back wins at eight and nine Hurst took a 1 up lead into eighteen and a birdie at the last gave her a 2 up win.

In what has to be called an big upset, rookie Christel Boeljon took a point from Solheim veteran and long hitting Brittany Lincicome.  Boeljon got it to 2 up after four and was able to keep a lead all round after that as Lincicome couldn’t scratch out many winning holes.  Lincicome had only one birdie for the day as the rookie was able to card three.

One of the biggest disappointments of the Cup had been the poor play of Brittany Lang.  She had an obscene 0-3 record going into singles but managed to find her game.  With three birdies through twelve holes and opponent Sandra Gal playing poorly (4 bogeys, 1 double), Lang got her first point of the week and gave the U.S. hope for retaining the cup.

Christina Kim had seen action only once in the Solheim Cup this week and earned a half a point.  But she was ready to go today as she revved up the crowd at the first tee and her play kept them fired up all round.  She was four up after six holes which included an eagle and a birdie.  She closed out Maria Hjorth at the sixteenth with a 4 & 2 win and turned cheerleader from there on out.

Every American player had said they would have loved to play Suzann Pettersen in the final singles.  Michelle Wie was the lucky American to get that chore.  Pettersen is known for her fierce competitiveness and he passion for Solheim Cup.  Wie gave Pettersen a 1 up lead early when she missed her putt on the first but got it back to all square with a bird at the second.  Wie gave her the advantage again with bogeys at the third and the sixth.  Wie found her stride with birdies at seven and nine to go all square and the two slugged it out with another lead change.  Then Wie took the lead with a birdie at fifteen.  Pettersen was having none of this and she promptly sunk a long, dramatic birdie putt at the par three sixteenth to go all square.  They put on a great show at the seventeenth as Pettersen stiffed her approach in tight only to see Wie pour in a long putt for birdie.  After Pettersen sunk her birdie they strode off to the eighteenth amid a chorus of cheers and screams.

All square going into the last they both had great drives at eighteen. Once again Pettersen put her approach in birdie range but Wie found the bunker in back of the pin.  With little room to work with Wie hit an amazing shot from the sand and left a short putt for par.  Pettersen stood over her putt relishing her opportunity and promptly stroked it in dead center.  She had birdied the last three holes to win her point in very dramatic fashion.  She lives for these moments and her point gave the Europeans 13.5 points, on the edge of winning the cup.

The deciding match turned out to be the Ryann O’Toole versus Caroline Hedwall pairing.  They were two rookies that had played like seasoned Solheim Cup veterans all week.  Both had two wins going into the singles and O’Toole was in command for most of the day.  O’Toole took an early 2 up lead but Hedwall fought back to all square after five holes.  Then O’Toole got back on top and took a two up lead into seventeen.  Unfortunately, O’Toole felt the pressure at seventeen and lost the hole with a bogey.  She over shot the green at eighteen and feeling the pressure she made a fatal error when she left her chip in the rough.  He second chip went well past the hole and with Hedwall in close her putt was conceded. O’Toole had lost her 2 up with 2 to play lead and halved her match.

With Azahara Munoz on eighteen with a 1 up lead with one to play over Angela Stanford the European Team was assured of half a point and that was enough to win the cup.  As O’Toole collapsed into her captain’s arm the European celebration began.

It was an amazing afternoon for the European team.  Early in the day with the Creamer defeat and Cristie Kerr withdrawing, the Euros looked to have an easy task ahead of them.  But a gritty American team toughed it out and had a great chance at retaining the cup.  But as play headed to the closing holes Europe was buoyed by one comeback after another. As the U.S. players faltered the Euros thrived on the last few holes.  A Sunday like this is what every Solheim Cup player dreams about.  The day was filled with action, suspense and drama.  It was a great win for the Europeans and a very memorable day in the history of The Solheim Cup.


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