Europe need miracle to come out on top in Solheim Cup

US captain Juli Inkstergives the thumbs up to the home fans in Des Moines. Picture: AP
US captain Juli Inkstergives the thumbs up to the home fans in Des Moines. Picture: AP
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Europe will need to pull off the best fightback in the event’s history to win the 15th Solheim Cup after losing more ground to the Americans in another sensational fourballs session in Des Moines.

Juli Inkster’s home team only need three-and-a-half points from the 12 Sunday singles to hold on to the trophy after coming out on top in one of the best-ever sessions in the event’s history on a sun-kissed afternoon in the heart of Iowa.

Unlike Friday, when they suffered a whitewash in the same session, Annika Sorenstam’s side produced some brilliant golf themselves in a bid to reduce a gap that had remained at three points following the morning foursomes.

In the end, though, the Americans prevailed 3-1 to take a 10.5-5.5 lead into the last day - the first time, incredibly, that they have had their noses in front at this stage in the event since the 1998 match at Muirfield Village.

The US came from four points down to win in Germany two years ago, as did Europe, of course, in the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah.

However, the visitors have an even an even bigger mountain to climb in the concluding session on this occasion and, on the evidence so far, that seems unlikely.

Europe drew first blood on a memorable afternoon as Anna Nordqvist and Jodi Ewart Shadoff joined forces to beat Lizette Salas and Amy Yin 4&2.

It was Nordqvist’s third win in three outings - a brilliant effort given than she is playing with mononucleosis.

“I was feeling tired down the stretch but Jodi made some great birdies and we are delighted to put a great point on the board,” said the Swede.

She believes the Europeans can still pull off a second straight success on US soil, adding: “It happened in ‘15 (when the Americans came from 10-6 down in Germany on the last day to triumph).”

As had been the case on Friday, Brittany Lincicome and Brittany Lang produced brilliant figures to win their match, though Mel Reid and Carlota Ciganda made them work for a two-hole triumph.

The Americans were an astonishing eight-under for the first seven holes, with their opponents covering the same stretch in four-under as they did well to only be only three down at that point.

Twice thereafter Reid and Ciganda got back to within one hole but the Americans were not to be denied what, in truth, was a deserved victory - their fourth in fourth outings in this format.

“It seemed the hole was the size of Texas,” admitted Lincicome, who started with six birdies herself before Lang holed out from 80 yards for an eagle-2 at the seventh.

Catriona Matthew and Georgia Hall, two of Europe’s best performers this week, played brilliantly once again but ran into an inspired Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson.

Kerr, who earlier in the day had been the top US points-scorer in the event’s history, had already knocked in putt after putt before she holed from a bunker for an eagle-3 at the 15th.

Matthew, who came in as an 11th-hour replacement this week for the injured Suzann Pettersen, did her best to keep the match alive at the next only to see a long birdie attempt come up agonisingly short.

“We ham and egged it well out there,” said Kerr after a 3&2 triumph while Thompson said of her team-mate: “She is an animal out there.”

In yet another high-quality contest, Paula Creamer and Austin Ernst rounded off another profitable session for the home side as they beat Karine Icher and Madelene Sagstrom 2&1.

Earlier in the day, which started with the home side holding a three-point overnight lead, Europe had their bottom two pairings to thank for the second foursomes session ending 2-2.

History was made in the top two matches, which resulted in convincing victories for the Americans and saw them lead 7.5-2.5 at one point in the morning.

First to earn a place in the record books was Kerr as she joined forces with world No 2 Thompson to hand out a 5&3 hammering to Ewart Shadoff and Caroline Masson.

The victory earned Kerr her 19th point in the event, becoming the most successful US player in the event’s history as she jumped ahead of Inkster, her captain here, of course.

It was also Inkster that 39-year-old Kerr eclipsed by chalking up the most match wins - 16 - by an American in the tournament.

“She putted amazing today, walking in so many putts,” said Thompson of her team-mate. “I just gave her the opportunities and she was just rolling the ball.”

Creamer, meanwhile, passed Inkster as the USA’s all-time points winner in foursomes matches with 8.5 points.

That followed her teaming up with rookie Ernst to record another 5&3 victory, this one coming against Reid and Emily Pedersen, one of the four newcomers in the European team.

“There’s nothing better than getting a point for your team,” said Creamer, who was set to miss out on this event until Jessica Korda pulled out through injury.

Those two wins left Europe badly needing to claim the other two points on offer and they did through the same pairings to triumph on the first morning.

Nordqvist and Hall gelled brilliantly again as they beat Stacy Lewis and Gerina Piller 2&1.

“She has played like a superstar,” said Nordqvist, the highest-ranked player in the European team, of her younger and less experienced team-mate. “I didn’t know her coming in here but she’s fearless and has a bright future ahead of her.”

Matthew, in contrast, is entering the twilight of her career but few players have performed better on this stage over the years than the Scottish No 1.

Indeed, she strengthened her position as the third most successful European in the event’s history by moving to 21 points after joining forces with Icher to beat Michelle Wie and Danielle Kang 2&1.

The Europeans were down early on before getting their noses in front after eight holes and producing another polished performance to stay there.

“Danielle and Michelle played very well yesterday, so that was a big scalp for us,” admitted Matthew after recording her third win in total with Icher after also winning a fourball match in Germany two years ago.

Charley Hull didn’t play at all on the second day due to a wrist injury she sustained hitting a shot out of the rough on the opening morning.

However, the English player quashed a rumour that she might not be able to take part in the singles, either.

“That one shot yesterday hurt it in the rough and Annika though it would be a good idea for me to rest it today, as it was a little bit swollen, but I’ll be totally fine for tomorrow,” said Hull.

“I can just concentrate on my own game and I’m confident to go out there.”

That final session will start two hours earlier than planned due to the threat of inclement weather tomorrow in the Des Moines area. The first tee time is now 9.31am local time.

Saturday results

(European names first)

Foursomes

Jodi Ewart Shadoff and Caroline Masson lost to Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson 5&3

Mel Reid and Emily Pedersen lost to Paula Creamer and Austin Ernst 5&3

Anna Nordqvist and Georgia Hall bt Stacy Lewis and Gerina Piller 2&1

Catriona Matthew and Karine Icher bt Michelle Wie and Danielle Kang 2&1

Fourballs

Mel Reid and Carlota Ciganda lost to Brittany Lang and Brittany Lincicome two holes

Anna Nordqvist and Jodi Ewart Shadoff bt Lizette Salas and Angel Yin 4&2

Karine Icher and Madelene Sagstrom lost to Paula Creamer and Austin Ernst 2&1

Catriona Matthew and Georgia Hall lost to Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson 3&2