TOLEDO, Ohio – Europe kept the Solheim Cup on Monday, scoring only their second win on American soil when Matilda Castren knocked out Lizette Salas 1 to give the visitors the deciding point in a 15-13 win.
Castren quietly curled into a 10-foot par putt on the 18th to overtake Salas and deliver consecutive European Cup victories for the second time in the 31-year history of the two-year showdown between the two rivals.
“It’s just crazy, crazy,” said the 26-year-old who only became eligible to join the team after winning an event in her native Finland in July. “I can’t believe I made that putt. I knew it was important. I knew it would break a little to the left. Me and (my caddy) read the putt perfectly and it went well. It is an incredible feeling and so proud to be a part of this team.
Two years after needing Suzann Pettersen’s dramatic 7-foot putt to escape the Americans at Gleneagles, the final putt this time was more than an exclamation point in three days of constant and occasionally spectacular play by visitors.
When Emily Pedersen launched into a birdie putt on the 18th to close Danielle Kang, the Europeans poured onto the green in celebration, hoisting Captain Catriona Matthew onto their shoulders as the chorus shouted “Sweet Caroline”.
The good times have never looked so good for Europe, which has now captured four of its last six encounters with the United States
The Europeans built a 9-7 lead over the weekend and quickly put pressure on Monday, extinguishing any legitimate hope of a comeback from the hosts.
Leona Maguire, the first Irishman to appear in the Solheim Cup, capped off a brilliant 4-0-1 debut by making three birdies and an eagle in the top nine to overtake Jennifer Kupcho 5-and-4 in the third match and give Europe the first of five points he needed.
Madelene Sagstrom followed with a 3 and 2 win over Ally Ewing and Celine Boutier left US rookie Mina Harigae 5 and 4 to bring the European total to 12. Anna Nordqvist and Lexi Thompson – who combined for 12 appearances at Solheim between them – finished all square in a tense match in which neither led by more than one at any one time.
The Americans briefly gave a push, turning the board into a sea of red in the late afternoon, but the bigwigs needed by the US to put pressure on the leaders materialized. Most of the Americans’ punches and the roars of the crowd were reserved for long par putts who cut the holes in half instead of winning them.
Austin Ernst saw her an 8-foot downhill putt birdie who would win her match against Nanna Koerstz Madsen slide left, letting Europe run away with a half point to bring her team’s total to 13. Salas has had a chance to equalize his game with Castren on the 17th, only to push his 6-foot birdie putt over the hole.
When Salas failed to convert a 20-foot uphill birdie putt on the 18th and Castren recovered from a tapped approach shot in the bunker to pour his par putt into the heart of the cup, Europe had its fourth victory in the Solheim Cup in the last six matches with the Americans.
Europe led from start to finish, taking a 3-point lead after the first alternating shooting session on Saturday morning and never giving up.
Not even a highly partisan crowd that included two-time Masters champion rapper Bubba Watson (yes, really) could give the US the energy it needed to bridge the gap.
However, US captain Pat Hurst remained confident ahead of the singles, saying his “stacked” team had enough talent and experience to overcome the deficit.
It had happened before. Eight times before Monday, Europe found itself at the top of the singles chart. Only four times the Europeans had resisted to win.
Yet 33-year-old Mel Reid, a four-time Solheim Cup veteran, said on the eve of the opening matches that this was the best team Europe had ever brought to the event.
Over the course of three days, Reid and his 11 teammates played like this. The Briton went 2-0-1 over the weekend paired with the seemingly unstoppable Maguire.
Reid’s spectacular 136-yard iron 8 on Sunday’s 18th in the final match earned half a point and gave impetus to Europe as he drove up to a win that never really seemed in doubt from second Nordqvist and Castren beat Ernst and Danielle Kang 1 in the opening game on Saturday morning.
While blowouts were rare – 21 of 28 games reached at least the 17th green and 16 of 28 went on to complete the 18 holes – when things got tough, Europeans rarely wavered.
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