After an American clean sweep in the opening foursomes session, the European side knew that anything less than parity in the afternoon fourballs would leave them staring down the gun barrel with just one day in the books at the 18th Solheim Cup at Finca Cortesin in Andalucía, Spain.
The home side were largely out of sorts in the morning, with only Leona Maguire, Celine Boutier and Maja Stark really doing themselves justice, but their exploits weren’t enough to prevent America putting four red points on the board. An afternoon resurgence, thanks in no small measure to Maguire, saw the Europeans fight back to win the fourball session by three points to one and they’ll trail by just two overnight.
European captain Suzanne Pettersen surprisingly opted to rest Boutier in the fourball matches, whilst giving Scot Gemma Dryburgh, Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom and home hero Carlotta Ciganda their first appearances of the event. Stacy Lewis also switched things up and sent out four new pairings with Lilia Vu, Rose Zhang, Angel Yin and Jennifer Kupcho all coming in. Caroline Hedwall, one of Pettersen’s captain’s picks, was the only player to sit out both Friday sessions.
In the opening match of the afternoon session, Dryburgh and Sagstrom faced Zhang and Megan Khang. Echoing the earlier matches, the European duo started nervously and immediately went one down. As they settled into the affair, an excellent match broke out, with the home side twice pegging back 1UP leads, and peeling back a 2UP lead before hitting the front for the first time on the 14th.
The US pair responded to tie the match again on the 15th, but when Dryburgh chipped in for birdie on 16, it looked like Europe were edging towards their first point of the day. Zhang had other ideas, however, rolling in a 15-footer to halve the hole and they’d take it all the way to the 18th where pars all round would get Europe off the duck egg with their first half-point of the week.
In the second match, Maguire paired up with Georgia Hall in a reprisal of the opening fourball session at Inverness two years ago, and they squared off against Lexi Thompson and world number two Lilia Vu. Thompson was one of the surprise stars of the morning session, having been expected to sit out the foursomes following a disappointing season, but she was sent out first in the morning and repaid her captain’s faith with a superb performance.
Maguire had almost singlehandedly kept herself and Anna Nordqvist in their earlier foursomes contest, holing clutch putts on holes 16, 17 and 18 to keep the partnership in it, and apart from a Hall eagle on the fourth, it was the Cavan star who did almost all the heavy lifting again in the afternoon.
Whilst the pendulum swung back and forth in the opening match, hole wins were hard to come by in this tie, but a win on the long par-4 15th saw Maguire and Hall get their noses in front. With a putt to go dormy-two, Leona burned the edge on 16, before Vu rolled in a 20-footer up the hill on 17 to tie the match and follow the session’s first match down the last at all-square.
Big-hitting Thompson went for the par-5 in two, coming up a shade shy and nestling in the greenside rough just 20-feet from the flag. Hall and Maguire laid up, and the latter’s approach spun off the front leaving an uphill chip that, in all likelihood, had to drop if Europe were going to get a first win.
But she’s nothing if not a player for the big moment, and the chip was majestic, grabbed a little, and fell deadweight in the side door as the normally stoic Maguire leaped in joyful celebration and the partisan home crowd erupted. Now under the microscope, Thompson’s short game failed her and neither of the Americans ended up matching Maguire’s birdie.
— Ladies European Tour (@LETgolf) September 22, 2023
It’s a little early, but there were shades of Ian Poulter’s heroics at Medinah in Maguire’s back nine and should Europe go on to complete the comeback and win a third successive Solheim Cup, Maguire’s chip in on 18 will likely be seen as a crucial momentum changing moment.
Breaking up the Swedish rookie team that had led the Europeans out in the morning, Pettersen teamed up Maja Stark with Denmark’s Emily Kristine Pedersen in the third match, and they lined up against Allisen Corpuz and Kupcho.
Something of a slow burner, the match sprang to life on the back nine, the highlight of which was an incredible hole in one – just the second in Solheim Cup history – by Pedersen at the 12th which drew the Europeans back level. From that point on, with the exception of the incredibly difficult 15th, at least one of the players birdied each of the following six holes with all four – and Pedersen and Corpuz in particular – hitting it to gimme range on the 17th to follow suit and go up 18 all-square.
— Ladies European Tour (@LETgolf) September 22, 2023
The drama showed no signs of slowing either, with Corpuz rolling in a 15-footer for yet another birdie forcing the Europeans to follow suit to rescue a half-point. With Pedersen facing a slippery eight-footer for hers, Stark stared down a 15-footer of her own and removed all pressure as she rammed it straight in the middle to get another half-point on the board.
The final match proved to be the least dramatic of the four as Carlotta Ciganda and Linn Grant ran out comfortable winners over Angel Yin and Ally Ewing. Channeling the energy of the crowd, Ciganda took the match by the scruff of the neck and they lost just one hole on their way to a 4&2 win that completed an excellent afternoon and adds considerable flavour to the meals they’ll be eating tonight.