Euro comeback sets up Super Sunday

 
 
Published8/22/2009 9:54 PM

And now it's a tournament.

Down a point heading into Saturday, Europe needed something big to happen in the morning matches.

 

But at about 1:50 p.m., the Euros were in real danger of being swept in all four "morning'' games, and finished for the tourney.

An hour later, after some brilliant European putting and clutch shots on the final 3 holes, the visitors rallied to take 21/2 points, tying the Solheim Cup at 6-6 and ending any thoughts of a U.S. blowout.

Suddenly, it was no longer a U.S. coronation, but instead a genuine competition. After Europe continued its run in the afternoon, winning two of the four matches, the score was still tied at 8-8.

The heavily-favored Americans were not only on notice from Europe that they intended to put up a fight, but the U.S. team was sick of hearing about how the Euros had no chance at Rich Harvest Farms.

"I didn't think that we were favorites (as if) they were never going to have a chance,'' said U.S. veteran Angela Stanford. "Things I've seen on TV, it made it sound like we were just going to show up and win the Cup.''

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After getting pounded in the first match of the day, the European rally began with a huge birdie putt on 18 by Diana Luna that halved her match and got the Euros on the board.

Stanford and Brittany Lang led that bout by 2 with 2 holes to play, but gave it away.

"We played a really solid round, but we just didn't finish it off,'' Lang said. "We had chances to close them out and get the full point.''

That match was make or break for Europe, and after Luna made her putt, the Euros squeezed out 1-up victories in the final two of the four-balls to square the Cup at 6 going into the afternoon.

"I think it's just a classic case of a team that thinks they're underdogs and a team that has been told they're favorites, and we haven't shut the door on them,'' Stanford said. "So the longer you let a team hang around, they just gain confidence.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I think that's why I'm so frustrated with our match, because at some point we gotta start closing the door on them.''

In the afternoon, the Euros took their first lead of the tourney and made it 8-6 with two blowout victories, but then the U.S. staged its own rally and hung on for the final 2 difficult points by keeping their lead on the 18th in the last 2 matches.

Even at 8-8, Europe is a half point back because they need 141/2 to win, while the defending champs need only 14.

Still, considering the European bookmakers had the U.S. as a whopping 3/5 favorite, and Team Europe as a 5-1 underdog, it's a bit stunning.

"Their team is stacked as good as our team is, so I have no idea where they got that from,'' Lang said. "With match play, anything can happen.''

It sets up a wild Sunday of 12 singles matches, which is all the LPGA could have hoped for when play began Friday.

"They have two major winners and they love match play. They love the idea of team,'' Stanford said of the Euros. "It's tied, but I think we have the stronger team.''

Stanford then paused, and added, "Still gotta play, though.''

The shockers

It's not overstating it to say that Michelle Wie - who came in as an unknown entity - has been the best, most consistent and clutch U.S. player through two days, and has absolutely dominated at times, going 2-0-1.

"For anybody that said Michelle Wie can't play under pressure, I think they were proven wrong today,'' said U.S. captain Beth Daniel. "She did everything and more that we've asked of her. She was walking on air.''

Meanwhile, the top European when they arrived in Sugar Grove, Suzann Pettersen, has been invisible. Had she merely been average the last two days, Europe could have a commanding lead.

That's got to scare Euro captain Alison Nicholas just a bit as they head to singles Sunday, though she is sending Pettersen (1-3-0) out first.

"We started the day a point down and we won the day. That's a good day,'' Nicholas said. "We've got nothing to lose (Sunday). We just have to go out and play our hearts out.''

Crowd control

U.S. Soccer legend Mia Hamm has been following Team USA and is overwhelmed by the fan reaction.

"We just opened the car doors and you could hear the 'USA, USA' chants coming from a mile away,'' Hamm said. "It gives you the chills.''

Officials estimated Friday's attendance at 25,000 and thought Saturday to be near 30,000.

Tell me there's a better sports city in America than Chicago.

Once a moron -

So I kept seeing Michelle Wie with an "ASU'' ribbon in her hair, and couldn't figure it out, what with her Stanford ties and all.

So I stopped Wie's mom near the fourth green Saturday morning and asked her to explain.

"The wind keeps turning it upside down,'' she laughed. "It's a 'USA' ribbon.''

It's at a moment like that when I simply have to accept the fact that I'm an idiot, and just get on with the rest of my pathetic life.

Pace of play

It's being called "Slow-heim'' by some patrons, who witnessed just short of 12 hours of Saturday golf, which ended in the dark. No one can say they're not getting their money's worth.

The stat

Gwladys Nocera, 2-3-1 in past Cups, is 3-0-0 for the Europeans.

The quote

Brittany Lang: "In match play, especially in something like this, momentum has everything to do with it.''

And finally-

Juli Inkster, at age 49, on the difficulty of playing two matches in the same day: "If you can't play 36 holes, you need to get another job.''

brozner@dailyherald.com

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