YOU could tell it was tense on the final day of the Solheim Cup. Even Spain’s Carlota Ciganda seemed to forget the moves to The Macarena amid the hysteria and hoopla on the first tee.
There were going to be a few twists and turns in this particular tale as the 17th edition of the women’s showpiece drew to a riveting finale in Ohio last night.
Catriona Matthew’s European team, aiming to win on US soil for just the second time in the event’s 31-year history, led by two heading into the closing singles and required five points from the 12 head-to-head jousts to retain this cherished clump of Waterford crystal. They got them, but, my goodness, it was tight.
Judging by the general racket, it seemed the entire population of Toledo had popped out on American Labor Day to whoop, hoot and holler the hosts to a comeback victory.
The Europeans set about silencing the din, though. In Leona Maguire, the brilliant Irish rookie, the visitors possessed something of a quiet assassin. The softly-spoken former world amateur No 1 has let her clubs make a huge noise over the last three days and her rampaging 5&4 win over Jennifer Kupcho in the third match out extended the European lead to three points.
From her five matches, the unbeaten Maguire earned 4 ½ points. It was a debut of wonderful aplomb and one which gave her the most points ever plundered by a rookie in the contest.
“The eagle on two really set me up and I just kept my foot down all day,” said the 26-year-old of a performance of class and clinical efficiency.
“I knew I’d have to have my ‘A’ game today, and luckily there was still some energy left in my legs and I was able to get it done.”
In the fluctuating, ebb and flow of matchplay, the scoreboard made for terrific early viewing for Matthew. It was awash with the kind of blue you’d get with a Miles Davis LP.
When Madelene Sagstrom, who was at the centre of that well-documented rules stooshie on Saturday, put the tin lid on a 3&2 win over Ally Ewing, that blue of Europe continued to get splattered on those boards.
It got better as Celine Boutier, a fine rookie at Gleneagles in 2019, eased to a 5&4 victory over Mina Harigae to bolster the tally.
The opening tie, meanwhile, had really stirred the senses. Back in 2017 at Des Moines, Anna Nordqvist and Lexi Thompson served up a singles showdown for the ages which featured 11 birdies and two eagles between them in a rip-roaring halved match.
The fireworks were not quite as spectacular in this Toledo encore yesterday but an absorbing tussle ended in another share of the spoils.
Nordqvist, the reigning Women’s Open champion and a veteran of seven Solheim Cup campaigns, almost nabbed a full point on the last with a raking birdie putt but a halfpoint inched the Europeans towards their target.
“I thought it was in on the last, said Nordqvist of that putt. “It was so close. It’s a huge honour to go out first. I enjoyed playing Lexi. We had that great match in 2017 and these are the moments I live for.”
By that stage, Matthew’s team were sitting on 12 ½ points and just 1 ½ points from retaining the cup. Getting over the line, though, is never easy in this event of unpredictable, wildly fluctuating fortunes.
Nelly Korda, the world No 1, kept American hearts beating with a final hole victory over Georgia Hall to give the US a first full point of the session and energise the partisan masses.
The tide was turning in the lower order and European nails were being nibbled in a nervous fever but a hardfought half-point on the last green from Nanna Madsen against Austin Ernst took Europe another step closer.
It was all desperately close but Matilda Castren’s win over Lizette Salas on the last got them to the promised land.