It was the sort of nerveless display Catriona Matthew, the European captain, will be looking for from her players in the Solheim Cup at the same venue in just over a year’s time. Three crucial putts at the last three holes all confidently knocked in. Matthew has made a habit of rising to the challenge in her glittering career and did so again on the second day of the inaugural European Team Championships at Gleneagles.
Up against Norway’s Marianne Skarpnord and Marita Engzelius, Matthew and her Great Britain 2 team-mate, Holly Clyburn, were in danger of going one down until the 48-year-old North Berwick woman made up for an “awful first putt” by rolling in an eight-footer for a half in pars at the long 16th on the PGA Centenary Course.
After having to wait for an eternity – the time Skarpnord took to hit first in the group was shocking and it really is no wonder golf is losing its appeal to some people when players are allowed to get away with footerin’ aboot so much – Matthew pulled her tee shot at the short 17th but converted from the same distance again to keep the Group D round-robin match all square.
From the left rough at the last, Skarpnord shanked her second and the ball hit Matthew’s golf bag. She might have been trying to take out the nine-time Solheim Cup player because she probably knew how this was going to finish. And it did. After Engzelius failed to threaten the hole with a ten-foot dribbler down the slope, Matthew made no mistake with her birdie putt from half that distance.
The win has left Matthew and Clyburn as the favourites to progress from their group. A half in their final round-robin match against Sweden 3 pair Cajsa Persson and Linda Wessberg will be sufficient to secure a spot in Sunday morning’s semi-finals.
Modest as ever, Matthew said she had simply “got lucky today”. As Clyburn acknowledged, though, that finish wasn’t just down to good fortune. “Thankfully I had a good partner over the last three holes,” said the Grimsby woman.
Match-play seems to bring out the best in Matthew. “I’d rather have won three holes earlier, but that’s the attraction of match-play,” she said, smiling. “It came down to who holed the putts. I’ve tried to do that my whole career.”
After another successful day for the home representatives, there is a possibility that five of the six GB teams can make the semi-finals. Representing GB 1, Georgia Hall and Laura Davies also only need a half against Belgium today.
“The energy levels are fine,” insisted Hall, still riding on the crest of a wave after her win last weekend in the Ricoh Women’s British Open. “It’s quite relaxing playing with Laura as well. It’s not too stressful.”
Michele Thomson and Meghan MacLaren, the GB 3 pairing, have also won both their matches, so a half against Finland will take them through. “We are the under-the-radar team for GB and that suits us fine,” said MacLaren, who revealed she is a “quarter Scot”. Echoing that sentiment, 100 per cent Scot Thomson added: “We have dovetailed brilliantly so far.”
So, too, have Liam Johnston and Connor Syme, the GB3 men’s pairing. With his partner “not at my best today”, Johnston did the donkey work before Syme holed from 45 feet for a match-winning birdie at the 17th against Ireland. “I told Connor that I fancied him holing the putt,” said Johnston, laughing, afterwards. They now face Italian pair Francesco Laporta and Alessandro Taddini in a winner-takes-all encounter.
Lee Slattery and Callum Shinkwin, the strongest team on paper, hammered Sweden 1 6&5 to stay in the medal mix, too. “It helps,” acknowledged Matthew of the home teams performing well so far. “You saw that with Georgia winning last week. You get the crowds up if the home players are doing well. It’s good to see the Brits winning.”