After two of the slowest days in golfing history, it’s all to play for in the 16th Solheim Cup at Gleneagles. Europe, led by Scotland’s Catriona Matthew, and the United States are tied at 8-8 heading into the concluding singles on the PGA Centenary Course in Perthshire.
In a four-club wind – it blew continously at 28mph and gusted up to 45mph – Juli Inkster’s visiting team edged the second-day action by a point. At one stage, they really had the upper hand, leading in all four of the afternoon fourballs. A brilliant fightback from rookie Celine Boutier and major winner Georgia Hall secured a valuable victory for Europe. Caroline Masson and Jodi Ewart Shadoff also dug deep for a precious half point.
With rounds taking close to six hours, it’s painful to watch, but at least an exciting finish is on the cards, with Europe needing six-and-half points from the ten head-to-head matches to stop their opponents from making it three wins on the spin.
In the first of yesterday’s ding-dong afternoon tussles, Brittany Altomare, who was playing with Annie Park, birdied the fifth and sixth to put the Americans two up before Suzann Pettersen, partnered by rookie Anne Van Dam, found her stride. After only recently returning from an 18-month maternity leave, she was supposed to be rusty. Not on this evidence. The Norwegian was back to her best as she made five birdies in six holes around the turn. “Come on,” she roared after hitting a brilliant approach to three feet at the eighth and holing the putt.
Despite Pettersen’s best efforts, the Europeans just couldn’t get their noses in front. In the end, they would look back at the tenth and 16th as being holes that cost them. Both players three-putted after finding the dance floor at the former while poor approaches saw them lose the latter to a par-5. Van Dam made a great up and down from the left of the green at the 17th to keep the match going and, though Pettersen gave herself a birdie chance at the last, she didn’t really threaten the hole from 20 feet.
The odd eyebrow had been raised when Matthew sent out Ewart Shadoff and Masson in the second match, where they were up against Lexi Thompson and Marina Alex. They’d been cuffed, after all, in the opening session on Friday morning, when Ewart Shadoff, in particular, had been out of sorts. If they had been handed a chance to make amends while, at the same time, boost their confidence for the singles, it was mission accomplished.
The Americans led at the turn before Masson converted a 30-foot birdie putt at the tenth, raising a big roar from the home fans at the exact time the scoreboards had become awash with red. With her eye in on the greens, the German rolled in another one for a hole-winning birdie at the 13th. Sales squared it again with a 4 at the long 16th and, though Masson came close to winning it with a six-footer that hit the right edge of the hole, a half was probably how that one deserved to end.
Of all the afternoon matches, it was the one involving Boutier and Hall that looked set for an early end. Having excelled in foursomes, they started scrappily with their own ball. Twenty-four hours after equalling the biggest fourball win in the event, Ally McDonald and Angel Yin looked set to sweep the opposition away once again as they opened up a four-hole lead before the turn. Hall, the 2018 Women’s British Open champion, looked out on our her feet, but was sparked into life when Boutier sent a 30-footer into the hole for an eagle-2 at the 14th. After a classy chip from Hall at the 15th, the match had been squared. Boutier then birdied the 16th to win that, Hall’s cracking tee shot at the next hole ensured that was never going to be lost before the French player also birdied the last for a two-hole success.
Hall described the win as “unreal”, adding: “We didn’t get off to the best of starts, but grinded it out. We stayed patient and it is awesome.”
Boutier, one of Matthew’s four wildcard picks, added: “I had the best partner out there. I could not have done it without her.” Referring to the putt at the 16th to edge them ahead, she added: “We needed that one to tip the balance. It was nice to make it.”
While Spanish pair Carolta Ciganda and Azahara Munoz started off well – they were two up after three – a burst of three birdies in four holes from Lizette Salas turned the tide for the Americans in the anchor match. Salas’ partner Danielle Kang, who’d talked about wanting to “take souls” and make people “cry”, didn’t have much to shout about after losing her two previous games in the match, but she’s set to go into the singles with a spring in her step after knocking in two great putts when the heat was on. The latter for a birdie-2 at the 17th secured a 2&1 win.
What had started out promisingly ended up being a disappointing day for Van Dam. In the foursomes, she’d been four up after six holes alongside another Scandinavian, Swede Anna Nordqvist, only to suffer a 2&1 defeat at the hands of a pair of scrappers in Morgan Pressel and Marina Alex. The Americans won seven out of nine holes from the seventh. It was one of the most remarakable turnarounds in the event’s history. “That’s up there,” said Pressel of where it ranked in her Solheim Cup career.
The Korda sisters – Jessica and Nelly – were impressive in chalking up a second big foursomes win as the morning session was shared 2-2. Inkster’s decision to overlook them for the afternoon was a surprise but, then again, she’s been the winning captain two matches in a row. Will it be three or can the home players rise to the challenge for captain Catriona?