Catriona Matthew shines as sun sets on Europe in Solheim Cup

United States Lizette Salas, left, celebrates with team captain Juli Inkster after clinching the winning point. Picture: AP.
United States Lizette Salas, left, celebrates with team captain Juli Inkster after clinching the winning point. Picture: AP.
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They put up a fight. They even gave their opponents a little fright. In the end, though, Europe were beaten 16½-11½ in the 15th Solheim Cup here in the heart of Iowa. The Americans ran out worthy winners at Des Moines Golf & Country Club, meaning they will be heading to Gleneagles in two years’ time with a chance to claim a third hat-trick in the biennial event.

Catriona Matthew, who has been widely tipped to captain the home team in Perthshire but might not be done with playing just yet in this event after doing incredibly well as a late replacement, did her bit on the last day as the Europeans, trailing by five points overnight, tried to pull off the biggest fightback in either this match or the Ryder Cup.

The 47-year-old, who came here as a vice-captain before swapping roles with Suzann Pettersen due to the Norwegian hurting her back, recovered from being three down after four holes to beat Stacy Lewis on the last in a tussle between two former British Women’s Open champions.

The gritty victory took Matthew’s tally for the week to three points from four matches, making her the second most successful contributor in Annika Sorenstam’s side after Swede Anna Nordqvist. Her overall tally now stands at 22 points, just three behind the event’s all-time leading points-scorer, Laura Davies. “I never gave up, I just hung in there and hoped my time would come,” said Matthew, pictured, who gradually clawed her way into the game after Lewis had come bursting out of the blocks, winning the first and third with birdies before a par proved good enough at the fourth.

As had been the case in her two foursomes wins with Karine Icher of France earlier in the event, the Scot played brilliantly on the back nine, where she squared matters with a birdie at the 15th before then getting her nose in front with a par two holes later. “I managed to put some pressure on her on the back nine,” added Matthew, who had been sent out in the first wave along with the likes of Nordqvist, Icher, Georgia Hall, Mel Reid and Caroline Masson by Sorenstam as the visitors tried to eclipse the “Miracle at Medinah”, as well as the US coming from four points behind in this event in Germany two years ago.

“We knew the first ones had to win,” admitted Matthew, who really is a remarkable ambassador for Scottish sport and showed yet again with her overall performance here why she has the utmost respect of so many people in golf, both in the men’s and women’s games. “Ideally, I wanted blue on the board early on, but I got there in the end.”

On a day when they showed real spirit, the Europeans led in six of the 12 matches at one point and were all square in another three, but hopes of some “Drama in Des Moines” were soon killed off. One of the big turning points came in the top match, where Lexi Thompson pulled off one of the most remarkable recoveries ever witnessed in golf in a wonderful tussle with Nordqvist.

Aided by her opponent missing two short putts, with a semi-shank sandwiched in between, Nordqvist went four up after four and still led by that margin at the turn.

However, Thompson, with the help of her Scottish caddie, Kevin McAlpine, then covered the next seven holes in a remarkable eight-under – that blistering run included two eagles, the first a hole out from 102 yards at the 11th – and had her nose in front before Nordqvist hit her approach almost stiff at the last for a halve. “That was like winning six points,” admitted Juli Inkster, who joined Judy Rankin in becoming the only back-to-back winning American captains, at the end of a breathtaking match.

Needing just three-and-a-half points on the day to retain the trophy, the Americans soon achieved that target before Lizette Salas secured victory. With Masson, Charley Hull, Carlota Ciganda and Madelene Sagstrom emulating Matthew by recording wins, coupled with Icher contributing a half to add to the one from Nordqvist, the final session was shared 6-6. In truth, the damage had been done from a European perspective when they lost the Friday fourballs 4-0. “We were just outplayed, but I am proud of how hard they fought today,” said Sorenstam.

Results

(European names first)

Anna Nordqvist halved with Lexi Thompson

Georgia Hall lost to Paula Creamer one hole

Mel Reid lost to Cristie Kerr 2&1

Catriona Matthew beat Stacy Lewis one hole

Karine Icher halved with Angel Yin

Caroline Masson beat Michelle Wie 4&2

Jodi Ewart Shadoff lost to Lizette Salas one hole

Charley Hull beat Brittany Lang one hole

Carlota Ciganda beat Brittany Lincicome 4&3

Florentyna Parker lost to Gerina Piller 4&2

Madelene Sagstrom beat Austin Ernst 3&2

Emily Pedersen lost to Danielle Kang 3&1

Final score: USA 16.5, Europe 11.5