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Europe take 9-7 lead over US into final day of tense Solheim Cup

The tense, tremendous, Toledo tussle. Those who feared a Solheim Cup which may struggle for attention due to it clashing in part with the extravagant conclusion to the PGA Tour season need not have worried. The only pity associated with this gripping battle between the teams of the United States and Europe is that only one more chapter remains.

The most extraordinary Sunday act, fittingly, was the last. Mel Reid’s 136-yard approach to the 18th to all intents and purposes looked half a club short. Reid and Leona Maguire, the undoubted star of this event so far, needed to win the hole to snatch a half against Jennifer Kupcho and Lizette Salas. Reid’s ball somehow evaded a greenside bunker, bounced in semi rough and trickled to within 15 inches of the cup. Reid tapped in for her three; giving Europe a 9-7 lead heading into the final day singles. “I knew I had to pull something off,” said Reid. “The crowd were getting behind them, heckling us a little bit.”

Catriona Matthew would have gleefully accepted this position before a ball was struck in anger at the Inverness Club. Europe need ‘only’ five points from a possible 12 to retain the Solheim Cup. “I’m very confident,” said Matthew. “I am delighted to be going in with a lead.”

Yesterday’s fourball session was one of stunning drama, epitomising the best of women’s golf. That Europe won this phase had appeared unlikely for so long. The US led in three matches; in the end they took a point from just one, Celine Boutier and Sophia Popov falling to a 3&1 defeat against Yealimi Noh and Mina Harigae.

Carlota Ciganda’s deadweight putt from 20ft at the 16th was crucial as she and Nanna Koerstz Madsen defeated Megan Khang and Jessica Korda, one up. Charley Hull and Emily Pedersen’s 3&2 win over Austin Ernst and Danielle Kang looked straightforward in context of such a close contest. The finest fourball match left Maguire and Reid, who have combined superbly, treating a draw like victory.

Afterwards, Matthew admitted she feared Reid’s iron shot at the 18th was bound for sand. “It got quite a fortunate bounce,” added the captain. “I have learned over the years that every half-point is absolutely crucial. That half-point has buoyed us.”

It was easy to forget that the US had appeared to claim momentum with a 3-1 foursome session win. Kang and Ernst defeated Madelene Sagström and Georgia Hall by a hole. Lexi Thompson and Brittany Altomare saw off Hull and Pedersen. Salas and Kupcho were victors by 3&1 over Anna Nordqvist and Matilda Castren.

Given this is typically the weaker of the pairing formats for the US, the rise in crowd noise was wholly understandable. Yet this European team and their captain are made of stern stuff. Maguire, the only player in either team to feature in every session, has claimed three-and-a-half points from a possible four. “I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my Solheim career,” said the 26-year-old from County Cavan.

Lasting impact affecting Nelly Korda after a high-profile rules controversy on Saturday was apparent a day later. The world No 1 had been the beneficiary of a hotly contested call during narrow victory in the day two fourballs. The sense that Korda was uneasy about what transpired only intensified as she produced ragged play alongside Ally Ewing amid their 5&4 defeat by Maguire and Reid.

Hurst duly left Korda out of the fourball session, with the US captain saying only that she wanted to afford her marquee player “a little more time to rest.”

Stacy Lewis, one of Hurst’s vice-captains, had disclosed to broadcasters that the US backroom team had to keep pressing home to Korda that she had done nothing wrong. Should the US reclaim the trophy by a point – and that scenario is wholly plausible – it is safe to say the incident in question will remain a source of debate. Hopefully we are spared that; the standard of play here deserves a sunnier reference point.

Monday’s singles (US eastern time, Europe players first) 12:05: Anna Nordqvist v Lexi Thompson; 12:15: Madelene Sagstrom v Ally Ewing; 12:25: Leona Maguire v Jennifer Kupcho; 12:35: Georgia Hall v Nelly Korda; 12:45: Celine Boutier v Mina Harigae; 12:55: Nanna Koerstz Madsen v Austin Ernst; 13:05: Matilda Carsten v Lizette Salas; 13:15: Carlota Ciganda v Brittany Altomare; 13:25: Sophia Popov v Megan Khang; 13:35: Mel Reid v Yealimi Noh; 13:45: Charley Hull v Jessica Korda; 13:55: Emily Pedersen v Danielle Kang