Solheim Cup: Catriona Matthew hails 'crucial' lead for Europeans
Just as well Catriona Matthew is a cool customer. A calm head, after all, will be needed in the European team room heading into the last-day singles after a roller-coaster ride for her players so far in the 17th Solheim Cup in Ohio.
Leading by three points overnight, the Europeans were up in all four games at one point in the morning session on day two at Inverness Club in Toledo only for the momentum to swing over to Pat Hurst’s US side.
Against a backdrop of red around the course, the hosts won that session 3-1 and kept the foot to the pedal in the afternoon, leaving Matthew’s players fighting hard to try and not relinquish the advantage.
That they didn’t was down to a real gritty effort from the visitors, who ended up winning the session 2.5-1.5 to lead 9-7.
It went to the final putt in the final match at Gleneagles in 2019, with Suzann Pettersen delivering the goods for the North Berwick woman in her first stint as captain in the biennial bout.
Matthew is now bidding to become the first European captain to record back-to-back wins and she’ll certainly have faith in her players after the way they dug deep in the penultimate session.
“It was certainly a roller-coaster this afternoon,” said Matthew. “The last 20 minutes for us was crucial, I think. After having such a big lead from yesterday, we wouldn’t have wanted to give it all up, so it is great that we are going into tomorrow with a two-point lead.“
Trailing from the second, Celine Boutier and Sophia Popov went down to the rookie pairing of Mina Harigae and Yealimi Noh in the opening afternoon match as the score became tied at 6.5-6.5.
It was Boutier’s first taste of defeat in the event, having picked up four points out of four at Gleneagles before partnering Georgia Hall to a gutsy half point on the opening morning here.
While Dane Nanna Koerstz Madsen played her part with birdie-2 at the 12th then a rock-solid par at the last, it was mainly down to Spaniard Carlota Ciganda that Europe eventually edged a tight second game against Jessica Korda and Megan Khang.
Ciganda had already holed a good birdie at the 10th before a 20-footer was converted for a hole-winning 3 at the 15th and, equally important, followed that with a crucial up and down for a half at the next.
“I think it was really important to get that point,” said Ciganda while rookie Madsen described their effort as “a lot of fun.”
Just before that match concluded, Emily Kristine Pedersen and Charley Hull wrapped up an equally-important 4&2 win over Danielle Kang and Austin Ernst in the anchor match.
Pedersen had described her putting as a “disgrace” during last month’s Women’s Scottish Open at Dumbarnie Links, but the Dane certainly holed her fair share on this occasion.
“It is a lot different,” said Pedersen of this Solheim Cup compared to a torrid debut appearance in Des Moines in 2017. “I feel more mature and I feel a lot more comfortable on the golf course.”
For her part, Hull said she felt “pretty chilled all the way” in picking up a point in her fifth appearance in the contest at just 25.
The final game on the course eventually finished all square, but what a battle it was between Leona Maguire and Mel Reid as they slugged it out with Lizette Salas and Jennifer Kupcho.
The only player in either side to play in all four opening sessions on her debut, having won three out of three, Maguire holed a 15-footer for a half in birdie-3s at the 16th.
Kupcho then chipped in at the next to edge the Americans ahead only for Reid, helped by a fortunate bounce in the front fringe, to win the last with a birdie from close range.
“That half was huge,” declared the English player. “The leaderboard was very red, so so to turn it around for a two-point lead is incredible for us.”
Earlier in the day, Maguire and Reid took down Olympic champion Korda, who was playing alongside Ally Ewing on this occasion as opposed to her sister, Jessica, for the second day running.
While admittedly helped by Korda being out of sorts, it was another impressive display from the European duo as they put the first point of the day on the board with a thumping 5&4 win.
“We played great all day,” said Maguire, who has taken to this stage in the same way she did when winning four points in helping a Great Britain & Ireland side led by Elaine Farquharson lift the Curtis Cup in 2016.
Reid has also excelled on her return to a playing role after being one of Matthew’s assistants in the win at Gleneagles two years ago.
“To take Nelly down twice is a big ask, and I’m very proud of the way we did it,” said the English player before saying of Maguire: “She’s such an impressive player.”
Despite losing the opening two holes to Georgia Hall and Madalene Sagstrom, Kang and Ernst then delivered a badly-needed point for the Americans with a one-hole win in the top match.
Time and time again, major winner Hall holed crucial putts, but she was unable to convert a 15-footer at the last that would have secured a halved match.
“We knew we needed to get a point,” said Ernst. “We knew they sent us off for a reason first, and we needed to go get one.”
Shortly afterwards, a huge roar swept across the course as Lexi Thompson rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt at the 17th to give her and Brittany Altomare a two-hole win over Hull and Pedersen.
Referring to the daughter of LPGA Tour player Jane Park, Thompson said: “We came into the day just playing actually for Grace Park.
“It's her first birthday today; she's going through some health problems right now, and we just wanted to keep a smile on our faces for her and keep her in our prayers.”
Capping a brilliant turnaround, Salas and Kupcho also secured a point with a birdie-3 at the penultimate hole against Anna Nordqvist and Matilda Castren.
“It was huge,” said Salas of the home team winning the morning session. “At a team meeting last night, people said a few things and today we used it to our advantage to get the job done.”
It was 8-8 heading into the singles at Gleneagles, where Europe came out on top in the concluding session for the first time in the event.
They’ll be aiming to repeat that feat on a Monday finish this time around, with the first target on the final day for the visitors getting to 14 points as that would be sufficient to retain the trophy.
Georgia Hall and Madelene Sagstrom lost to Danielle Kang and Austin Ernst 1 hole
Charley Hull and Emily Kristine Pedersen lost to Lexi Thompson and Brittany Altomare 2&1
Mel Reid and Leona Maguire bt Nelly Korda and Ally Ewing 5&4
Anna Nordqvist and Matilda Castren lost to Lizette Salas and Jennifer Kupcho 3&1
Celine Boutier and Sophia Popov lost to Yealimi Noh and Mina Harigae 2&1
Carlota Ciganda and Nanna Koerstz Madsen bt Jessica Korda and Megan Khang 1 hole
Mel Reid and Leona Maguire halved with Jennifer Kupcho and Lizette Salas
Charley Hull and Emily Kristine Pedersen bt Danielle Kang and Austin Ernst 4&2