Calling all singles! US-Europe tied at Solheim
SUGAR GROVE: The sun went down over Rich Harvest Farms and everybody's nerves seemed to go with it.
Cristie Kerr nearly took the head off a fake swan. Michelle Wie chunked a fairway shot that somehow made its way through not around a tree.
Europeans Anna Nordqvist and Maria Hjorth couldn't capitalize on any of it, and when Saturday's 12 hours of golf were finally over, the United States had pulled into an 8-8 tie in the Solheim Cup that felt more like a lead. The United States has a .602 winning percentage in singles over the course of the tournament, and has lost only three times in singles.
The last time? That would be 2003, also the last time Europe won the Solheim Cup.
The Americans need 14 points to win a third straight Solheim Cup, while Europe needs 14 1/2 points to claim it on U.S. soil for the first time.
"I'm just really proud of them the way they came back. It was not looking too good for us for a while, and they really rallied in those last couple of matches there in the afternoon," U.S. captain Beth Daniel said. "That was huge. Also, it should be a huge momentum swing for us to come back that way. They feel like they're ahead, and they should feel that way."
For the Europeans, it was an opportunity lost.
They managed to erase the one-point lead the Americans had after the first day, and looked midway through the afternoon as if they might go into Sunday ahead. But with the U.S. history in singles, they couldn't afford to give anything away — especially with points there for the taking down the stretch.
"After being one point down yesterday and bringing it back to all square, I'm happy with that," captain Alison Nicholas said. "Singles is always difficult. We haven't been that good over the years, but we have won that series. We've got nothing to lose and hopefully we'll just do a bit better than we have in the past."
When Wie and Christina Kim easily beat Helen Alfredsson and Tania Elosegui 5-and-4 in the opening fourball match, it looked as if it might be the start of a big day for the Americans. Kerr was holing out from the fairway two holes back about the same time, and the Americans had a lead in another match, too.
As Wie and Kim bumped hips and hugged it out on the green, the raucous crowd chanted "The Cup stays here."
It was way too early for that.
Europe rallied to win the fourballs 2 1/2-1 1/2 and tie tournament up, then took an early lead in foursomes with two easy wins.
"It looked like we were going to go in down a point or two, and to be even is big," Daniel said. "It's really big."
Pretty, however, it was not.
Morgan Pressel missed an 18-footer on 17 that would have won her and Kristy McPherson's foursomes match against Alfredsson and Suzann Pettersen. With Pettersen making a long putt for birdie, the Europeans had a chance to halve the match. But Pettersen missed a 25-footer, and Pressel made her putt to give the Americans a 2-up victory.
"We knew just how important our match was," Pressel said.
So did Wie and Kerr.
Kerr is one of the steadiest players on the U.S. team, which made her decision on 17 all the more shocking. Wie's tee shot found rough on the right side, and there was a big pond between Kerr and the green. The Americans were 2 up, and Hjorth had gone in the sand off the tee.
Instead of playing it safe, Kerr decided to go for it. Sure enough, the ball skipped through the water, nearly hitting one of the fake swans in the middle. Wie mishit the next shot and flew the green, landing in deep rough. Kerr's flop shot for a bogey skirted the hole, but didn't drop.
Advantage Europeans? Nope. Hjorth missed a 6-footer for bogey and the hole, and Wie rolled in a 3-footer for the half.
"That halve on that hole was ridiculous," Kerr said.
The Americans caught more breaks on 18. Kerr's drive kicked out into the fairway after hitting a tree, Wie found her own way through a tree. Kerr's approach flew the green, leaving Wie with a long putt. She got it close, curving the ball around the edge of the cup and bringing her teammates to their feet.
But the ball wouldn't drop. Neither, though, would a short putt by Hjorth.
"We did lose some ground today, but we're still tied going into singles," Pressel said. "We've got 12 points available and we have a very, very, very strong team."
And no one is stronger than Wie at this point.
Expectations for the big-hitting Hawaiian have been huge since she was in grade school, but injuries and other missteps have cost her and she's yet to have that breakthrough performance. This week might be it.
She put an approach shot within 18 inches from 149 yards out on the sixth hole of her fourball match with Kim, starting a run that gave the Americans four straight holes. She didn't flinch when she needed to make big shots with Kerr. Her drives were impressive, as always, and she showed a deftness with her short game.
Perhaps most impressive was how animated she was. Oh, she's given fist pumps before, even yelled a few times. But this was Michelle Unplugged. She sprinted along the side of the green after making a nice chip. She played to the crowd, waving her arms and cupping her hand to her ear to urge them to cheer louder. She and Kim even had a special handshake.
"She was so pumped up, I was worried about it," Daniel said.
She needn't have been.
"We just had a ball out there," Wie said. "It was just fun."