GLENEAGLES, Scotland (AP) – After a day of extraordinary comebacks, tense 18th-hole finishes, and some of the most brutal weather conditions in Solheim Cup history, still nothing can separate Europe and the United States at Gleneagles.
It’s 8-8 heading to the final-day singles and there’s no way of knowing which way this one’s going to fall.
It was just gone 7 p.m. local time on Saturday when Danielle Kang rolled in a long birdie putt amid the gloom to clinch the last match of the afternoon fourballs for the U.S. on the 17th hole, depriving the Europeans of the lead.
Kang hugged playing partner Lizette Salas, who was wearing giant ear muffs and a thick coat. They were congratulated by U.S. captain Juli Inskster, who was wearing three hats. Golf carts parked around the green had their headlights on.
It was one of those days when balls fell off tees and police officers roaming the course were seen holding onto their hats.
“I’m sure they’d love to be playing in Spain right now,” Inkster said of the players, “but this is where we’re at.”
It is the first time since 2011 in Ireland that Europe and the U.S. were tied going to the singles. The Europeans went on to lift the cup that year, and they are seeking to prevent a U.S. three-peat in women’s golf’s premier team event.
After the morning foursomes were shared 2-2, leaving Europe with a 6 1/2-5 1/2 lead, Inkster made the bold decision to rest the three unbeaten players in her team for the fourballs. Out went the Korda sisters, who had just swept to a record-tying 6-and-5 win, and also Morgan Pressel, who won seven of nine holes with Marina Alex to come from 4 down and secure a 2-and-1 victory.
Inkster went out of her “pod” system that has guided her selection and put her faith in fresher players to bring home the points in winds that reached 44 mph (70 kph).
The U.S. won the fourballs 2 1/2-1 1/2, with the match involving Kang and Salas – 2-up winners against Carlota Ciganda and Azahara Munoz – the only one not reaching the 18th hole.
Brittany Altomare and Annie Park had a 1-up victory in the top match over Anne van Dam and Suzann Pettersen, who left a putt short from 15 feet at the last that would have earned Europe a half-point.
Caroline Masson saw a curling putt from 8 feet lip out on No. 18 as her and European teammate Jodi Ewart Shadoff settled for a half-point against Alex and Lexi Thompson, the world No. 3 who still hasn’t won a match this week.
Then in the third match, Georgia Hall and Celine Boutier won the last five holes to recover from 3 down and claim a 2-up victory for Europe against Ally McDonald and Angel Yin. Hall and Boutier have played together in three matches and won all of them.
“The weather was horrendous – could hardly stand up,” said Hall, last year’s Women’s British Open champion. “Back nine, we kind of switched on and played some really good golf.”
Slow play has been another feature and each of the matches in the fourballs took more than 5 1/2 hours. Ciganda and Salas were both warned for bad times by the referee and every match was put on the clock.
“We’re playing for our country and we’re playing in these kind of conditions, so we’re playing as fast as we can,” said Thompson, who said the weather was “definitely the toughest I think I’ve played in.”
“We don’t want to be out there for six hours, either. But we have a lot on the line.”
Indeed, what’s at stake for the Americans is a third straight win – the third time they would have achieved such a streak – and an 11-5 lead in the overall series. It would be a stunning feat for a team containing a record six rookies and also for Inkster, who would become the first U.S. captain to have three victories.
Inkster said her players will put on some music – “I’ve got from Motown to Sam Smith to Khalid to Bruno Mars to the Temptations,” she said – and “chill out” rather than give any kind of motivational speech.
As for Europe captain Catriona Matthew, she believes Sunday can go either way.
“The first two days you can tell there’s not too much to pick between the two teams,” she said, “so we’re going in with a lot of confidence that we can do it.”
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80