Rookies step up to end Europe's eight-year wait

 

Killeen Castle

In circumstances as tense and thrilling as those of the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor a year ago, Europe regained the Solheim Cup for the first time in eight years. Despite having led for much of the three days, with four matches left on the course, the home side not only trailed but looked short of enough potential points to deny America a fourth successive victory.

But home players won three of those matches and gained a half in the other to claim victory by an unlikely score of 15-13. Suzann Pettersen showed exactly why she is the world No 2 by birdieing the last three holes to come from one down to Michelle Wie to secure her point. But Europe's three other heroes at the end were all rookies, all new to the cauldron of a nailbiting finish to an international team event.

Christel Boeljon, the first player from the Netherlands to appear in the contest, overcame a shortfall in both experience and length off the tee to beat Brittany Lincicome by two holes. She had led for all but two holes of the match but had to go all the way to the 18th, hitting the first of a series of brilliant approaches at the last by European players, before claiming her point.

With Pettersen adding another point, suddenly victory was a possibility again but it took Caroline Hedwall to gain a half after being two-down with two to play before anyone at Killeen Castle could dare believe it. Hedwall has been a professional for less than a year but has taken the European Tour by storm. She trailed the unheralded American rookie Ryann O'Toole almost all day but won the last two holes to get a vital half-point. At the last she too hit an exceptional approach, while O'Toole missed the green and took two to reach the putting surface.

Almost simultaneously, Spain's Azahara Munoz birdied the 17th with an approach to two feet in the last match on the course. It put Munoz one ahead with one to play against Angela Stanford, allowing the celebrations to begin. When Munoz and Stanford both hit the green at the last, their putts were conceded and both joy and despair took full vent.

"I've been in agony all day," European captain Alison Nicholas said. "The players have so much heart and passion. They were so up for it and fought right to the end."

This was only Europe's fourth victory in 12 Solheim Cups and another easy American victory might have caused doubts about the contest to resurface, especially with all the brilliant Asians looking on without an invitation to the party. But the closeness of this contest should end that speculation, Europe's 7-5 singles win showing they are no longer dependent on a few superstars.

"We came here with a team of 12 and showed we could win the singles," Laura Davies said. "The rookies were all superstars," Pettersen said. Asked how she kept coming up with the goods at the end – all her matches this week went to the 18th and she won three out of four – the Norwegian said: "I don't know, but I get older each time."

The day started with the scores tied but Cristie Kerr had to withdraw from her anchor match due to an injured wrist, giving Karen Stupples her first Solheim point. Then Catriona Matthew demolished America's best player, Paula Creamer, 6 and 5, while Sophie Gustafson won her fourth match out of four against Stacy Lewis. Morgan Pressel led the American fightback as two weather interruptions only increased the tension.

Juli Inkster's brilliant bunker shot at the last gave her a half against Davies in the battle of the veterans but it felt as if the dropped half-point might be vital. The stirring rally that followed will live long in the memory.

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