LALI STANDER: Spanish golfer clinches glory for Europe on penultimate hole
The Americans came, saw and almost conquered, but in the end it was Europe who celebrated three successive Solheim wins with the 14—14 result
You could not have scripted it any better. A Spanish golfer clinching the Solheim Cup in front of her countrymen and her king on home soil by ousting the US’s hottest player on the penultimate hole ... it’s the stuff of a Hollywood blockbuster and that’s exactly how it unfolded in Spain on Sunday.
The final day between the best of Europe and the US was poised on a knife’s edge at 8-all and the Americans needed 14½ to win and deny Europe a first-ever three-peat.
For the better part of the day at Finca Cortesin in Málaga, the momentum swung the way of the Americans.
The writing looked to be on the wall when No 1 Lexi Thompson won her game, but destiny had other plans and in an absolute cliffhanger finish, Carlote Ciganda delivered under enormous pressure.
Fuelled by the overwhelming support from the galleries, the Spaniard was composure personified down the stretch and she produced with two of the best shots of her life to beat Nelly Korda 2 & 1 and bring the house down.
The Americans came, they saw and almost conquered, but in the end it was Europe who celebrated three successive wins with the 14—14 result.
Many thought it would be decided by the two strongest performers in the 2023 edition, American Thompson and Dane Emily Pedersen.
Pederson had the early advantage and Thompson was three down after three holes, but the American rattled off back-to-back birdies to square the game through six holes. The tide began to turn when Thompson extended her lead to four up, and though the Dane reduced the lead by two, it was too little too late. Thompson won 2 & 1 to bag America’s 14th point.
So it came down to Ciganda in the second last game to pull off the Hail Mary, and she threw down the gauntlet immediately. Leading the penultimate game from the second hole, she was three up through the eighth and still in control through 15 holes.
Korda chipped away at her lead with a birdie on nine, par on 10 and another par on the 15th, but as the pair headed to the signature 16th the home field advantage washed over Ciganda as the crowd broke out in song. And then destiny took its dramatic hold.
Korda struck an accurate approach to six feet on the 16th, but Ciganda — pegged back to all square — hit her second shot to tap-in, sending thousands of European fans into raptures. The volume cranked up further when she holed the putt that put her back in front.
A minute or so later, the 33-year-old from Pamplona almost dislodged the flagstick with her tee shot on the par-three 17th and Korda was beaten. On a day of unrelenting fluctuation, fortune finally rested with the home team.
The Spanish sensation wasn’t the only player to produce a clutch performance on the final day.
Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall pulled off the kind of heroic comeback you only ever see in a Solheim or Ryder Cup. Down three to Ally Ewing through 12 holes, Hedwall fired birdies to win the 13th and 14th, then tied the game with another birdie on the 16th. The Swede produced another birdie to win the 17th and put an exclamation mark behind a two-up win — and a crucial point for Europe — with an eagle finish.
Hedwall’s astonishing win once again made a case for experience over form, and vindicated European captain Suzanne Pettersen’s decision to choose the world No 122 as one of her wild card selections because, as they say, the veterans just know when to turn it on.
Youngster Leona Maguire from Ireland — the hero of the 2021 Solheim Cup — was the embodiment of the legendary Ian Poulter as the spirited Irish lass produced some of the best-timed shots on the final day in her battle with Rose Zhang. The Irish woman took total control. She went two up, three up, then four up on holes 12, 13 and 14 and the match ended with Maguire banking Europe’s first point with a 4 & 3 triumph.
In the tightest game of the day, Maja Stark and Allisen Corpuz were deadlocked through the first six holes before the Swede struck with a birdie on seven. Try as she might, the American couldn’t find an opening. When Corpuz faltered on the 17th, Stark tidied up for a 2 & 1 win and took the Europeans to within a point of the US.
It was a Solheim thriller for the books and certainly one of the best I have witnessed, but reading blogs during the event, I think way too many spectators will have returned home having endured a less than satisfactory experience.
Countless stories and social media posts about ridiculous queues for understocked food outlets, no potable water for refill bottles, and security confiscating food, drink and sun cream from spectators on arrival. Navigating the course on foot was extremely difficult, so many of the spectacular holes and views were wasted, and there was a constant bunfight for shady spots in the heat. Between holes, the spectators were frequently bottlenecked in logjams.
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