Pettersen birdie blitz turns tide for Europe
Published 26/09/2011 | 05:00
HEROES came in many ages, shapes and guises at Killeen Castle as Europe emerged from one of the most dramatic, tense and emotional days of sport witnessed on this island with a 15-13 victory over the USA and the Solheim Cup.
Europe's winning captain Alison Nicholas was moved to tears as she paid tribute to her team for a win which she explained was inspired by the passion and spirit of the late Seve Ballesteros.
Nicholas, who cut her teeth as a captain at the 2009 Solheim Cup in Chicago, revealed the home side had a massive poster of the legendary Spaniard in their locker room. "Seve's an inspiration to all of us -- what he did for the game, his passion and charisma. It just gave us a lift to see him. It just brought it all together."
The European players brought that poster onto the 18th green and held it high in the air above them as they danced a jig of delight in those ecstatic first few moments following their victory.
Yet the greatest credit for this win must go to Tsarina Nicholas, her assistants Annika Sorenstam and Jo Morley, and a group of players which the captain said "were simply phenomenal, especially today. Their passion was amazing, they never gave up and it was so close."
Europe needed to draw on every last ounce of energy and drop of adrenalin to prevail over a doughty US team on a final day interrupted no less than three times by inclement weather -- twice when the course was waterlogged and the third time when lightning and thunder was detected in the area.
Going into yesterday's 12 singles matches tied 8-8 with the Americans had been daunting enough on a golf course which, in whistling winds and driving rain, pushed the players to the limit.
Though the Americans were noisily supported by an army of more than 5,000, Ireland also can take pride in the inspirational atmosphere generated by yesterday's attendance of 28,000, which brought figures for all three days of the Solheim Cup to 70,000. The thousands who defied the wind and drenching rain were richly rewarded.
Frankly, it was elating to witness women like world No 2 Suzann Pettersen and European rookies Caroline Hedwall and Azahara Munoz flourish under pressure which simply would crush the vast majority of us.
As the highest-ranked player at this Solheim Cup, Pettersen almost was expected to come into her own when the chips were down and the hopes of entire continents rested on every shot.
So to see the tall, elegant Norwegian birdie the final three holes as she came from one down to beat an iron-willed Michelle Wie and bring Europe to the cusp of victory, though brilliant, could hardly be termed as surprising.
Yet the role played by first-timers Hedwall (22) and 23-year-old Munoz in clinching Europe's fourth win in 12 stagings of this event was awe-inspiring.
Hedwall was two down with two holes to play in her enthralling match with America's formidable debutant Ryann O'Toole. Yet after holing an eight-footer for par and survival on 16, the powerful 22-year-old Swede then broke her opponent's resolve on those closing holes.
O'Toole wept disconsolately in the arms of her captain Rosie Jones after her bogey-bogey finish had allowed Hedwall claim a crucial half point for Europe with a solid par at 17 and the superb birdie she was conceded at the last.
As Munoz, a willowy but sublimely gifted Spaniard, was already one-up with one hole to play in her match with formidable US veteran Angela Stanford, Europe's victory was assured.
When the final two protagonists eventually made their way through the masses to the 18th green, they conceded each other's birdie putt, resulting in a one hole victory for Munoz, adding further vim to the wildest party ever witnessed in women's golf on this island.
Earlier events gave Europe the momentum they needed to take this famous victory, not least the enforced withdrawal for top-ranked US player Cristie Kerr from the singles game against England's Angela Stanford, gifting a precious point to the home side.
Kerr had defied the pain of tendonitis in her wrist to play in each of the first four sessions. Yet she was heartbroken to discover she could not hold a club in her hand yesterday and broke down in the arms of her husband and caddie Graeme.
If the rookies wrapped up a famous victory for Europe, two of the home side's most senior players, Catriona Matthew and Sophie Gustafson, put them firmly on the road. The role played by seasoned Scot Matthew (42) as 'Mother Hen' to rookies like Munoz and Sandra Gal, was exceeded only by her own inspiring form, especially yesterday as she inflicted a crushing first singles defeat (6&5) on Paula Creamer.
Like Matthew, Gustafson boosted her tally of points at this Solheim Cup to four out of four as she beat Stacy Lewis.
As Laura Davies (47) claimed a half point from her sentimental but hard-fought match with Juli Inkster, she boosted her tally from all 12 Solheim Cups to 24 and a half.
Yet, above all, this was an occasion to relish for an entire continent and one which did Seve proud.