ANDALUSIA, Spain — If Hollywood screenwriters weren’t on strike, they couldn’t have written a better ending for the European team in Sunday’s final session of the 18th Solheim Cup at Finca Cortesin.
Spain’s Carlota Ciganda, the homegrown hero, was tied with American superstar Nelly Korda with three holes to play. The score was tied 13-13. The European team had won the last two Solheim Cups and needed a single point to ensure a tie, which would allow it to retain the trophy again.
Korda, the second-highest ranked American golfer in the world, had trailed Ciganda by 3 after eight holes. But Korda rallied back and tied the match with a par on the 15th. But then on the par-4 16th, Korda pushed a short par putt and missed. Ciganda made her putt and took a 1-shot lead with two holes left.
On the par-3 17th, Ciganda knocked her tee shot to about 2 feet. Korda’s shot was long and settled on the fringe at the back of the green. Korda nearly made a long birdie putt but settled for par.
With much of Spain watching, Ciganda knocked in her putt and threw down her putter. Her 2 & 1 victory gave the Europeans a 14-13 lead. She was swarmed on the 17th green by her teammates after securing the point that ensured the European team would retain the Solheim Cup for another year.
Ciganda, 33, grew up in Pamplona, Spain. She played collegiately at Arizona State and has won two times on the LPGA Tour and seven times on the Ladies European Tour. The biggest moment of her career came on Sunday. She was the only player to earn four points and go 4-0-0 this week.
“I don’t have many feelings right now,” Ciganda said. “I’m so happy just to do this for [captain] Suzann [Pettersen] and for Spain. I’m just so proud. I’m just so happy. Everyone here is a family. The Spanish crowd is just amazing.”
It is the first time the European team has won the Solheim Cup three straight times. American Lexi Thompson defeated Denmark’s Emily K. Pedersen in the final match to tie the score at 14-14, but the Europeans still retained the Solheim Cup.
It was another disappointment for the U.S. team, which took a 4-0 lead on Friday after winning each of the four foursomes (alternate-shot) matches in the opening session. But the Europeans rebounded to win eight of the next 12 points, and the match was tied 8-8 heading into Sunday. The Europeans won five singles matches and tied two more to get to the required 14 points.
With the American team holding a tenuous 13-12 lead with only three matches remaining, Sweden’s Maja Stark tied the score with a 2 & 1 victory over U.S. Women’s Open champion Allisen Corpuz, setting up Ciganda’s heroics.
The European team won the first point of the day when Ireland’s Leona Maguire made quick work of Solheim Cup rookie Rose Zhang, a two-time NCAA individual national champion at Stanford. Maguire’s 4 & 3 victory gave the European team a 9-8 lead.
The Americans’ deficit didn’t last for long. Megan Khang, whose parents fled Laos during the Vietnam War and settled in the U.S., claimed a 1-up victory over Sweden’s Linn Grant, who had been playing as well as anyone at the Solheim Cup. Khang took a 1-up lead to the 18th hole, where she chipped to about 2 feet and made a birdie to clinch the match, tying the overall score, 9-9.
The teams split the next two matches, with American Danielle Kang defeating England’s Charley Hull 4 & 2, and Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist holding off Jennifer Kupcho, 2 & 1. That left the overall score 10-10 with eight matches still undecided.
Then points started piling up for the Americans in a hurry. First, Lilia Vu, a two-time major championship winner this past season, claimed a 4 & 3 win over Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom. Vu had birdies on the first three holes and led by five after six to win easily and give the U.S. team an 11-10 advantage.
Then former Stanford star Andrea Lee halved her match with England’s Georgia Hall. Lee, a former world No. 1 amateur, trailed Hall by 2 with four holes to play. Lee carded a birdie on the par-4 15th and then made par on the par-3 17th. She won the hole after Hall inexplicably three-putted from about 17 feet. Lee’s half-point made it 11½-10½.
Angel Yin picked up one of the Americans’ biggest victories when she took down Celine Boutier, who won her first major at the Evian Championship in her native France in July. Yin trailed Boutier by 1 after 12 holes but then she won four of the next five. On the par-4 14th, Yin drove the green and sank a long birdie putt. Yin’s victory pushed the U.S. team’s lead to 12½-10½.
Then former Alabama player Cheyenne Knight added a hard-earned half-point by rallying from 3 down after six holes to tie her match with Scotland’s Gemma Dryburgh, giving the Americans a 13-11 lead.
The European team pulled back within one, 13-12, after Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall rallied from 3-down against Ally Ewing with six holes to play. Hedwall won five of the last six holes to win the match, 2 up, after Ewing conceded on the 18th green.
The Solheim Cup is typically played every two years. Because the 2020 Ryder Cup was delayed one year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Solheim Cup is moving to an odd-year schedule. It will be played again on Sept. 13-15, 2024 at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Virginia.