PARKER, Colo. – Karine Icher put an emphatic end to a stunning sweep that put Europe on the verge of its first Solheim Cup win in America.
Icher rolled in a 45-foot birdie putt from just off the back of the 18th green Saturday afternoon as she and Beatriz Recari hung on for a 1-up win, giving Europe its first sweep of a Solheim Cup session in 11 years.
By winning all the four-ball matches in the afternoon, the Europeans led 10 1/2 to 5 1/2, matching the largest lead in Solheim Cup history. With only the 12 singles matches remaining Sunday, they only need to win three matches and halve another to capture the cup away from home for the first time since this event began in 1990.
It also would be the first time Europe retained the cup.
"It's a wonderful feeling," European Captain Liselotte Neumann said. "These girls played their hearts out. It's awesome. It was a fantastic afternoon."
Icher's putt was the final blow on a day filled with them for the Americans. Anna Nordqvist closed out a foursomes match in the morning with a hole-in-one on the 17th hole. And after the Americans thought they had momentum from a strong showing in foursomes, Europe came out firing with a pair of rookies.
Charley Hull, the 17-year-old from England and youngest player in Solheim Cup history, hit a 9-iron just over the bunker to 4 feet on the par-3 17th with her match all square. She finally felt nervous, and drained the putt for a 1-up lead. Jodi Ewart-Shadoff did the rest, smashing a tee shot some 30 yards by Lexi Thompson that left her only a 9-iron into the green. The birdie putt was conceded for a 2-up win over Thompson and Paula Creamer.
Caroline Hedwall, the only player to go all four matches, teamed with Caroline Masson to beat Michelle Wie and Jessica Korda. It was Wie's first loss at Colorado Golf Club. The Spanish tandem of Carlota Ciganda and Azahara Munoz beat Angela Stanford and Gerina Piller, leaving the American duo winless for the week.
It was a devastating end for the Americans, hopeful of at least getting a halve from that final match.
No team has ever rallied from more than two points behind to win the Solheim Cup.
"Obviously, it was a very disappointing afternoon," U.S. Captain Meg Mallon said. "We have our work cut out for us tomorrow. It can be done. It's daunting right now but it can be done."
Mallon felt much better after the morning session of foursomes, when Wie and Brittany Lang rallied from 2 down at the turn to beat Recari and Suzann Pettersen, and Stacy Lewis won her first point by teaming with Creamer for a 1-up win. Her team had a chance to tie the score until Catriona Matthew holed a 7-foot putt as she and Masson won the last two holes to earn a halve.
Still, the Americans closed the gap to one point and had momentum. Neumann kept three of her strongest and most experienced players on the bench in the afternoon: Pettersen, Matthew and Nordqvist.
It didn't matter. With five of her six rookies in the lineup, they played so well that for most of the afternoon, the scoreboard was filled with European blue.
Leading the way was Hull, who was dynamic in the best match of the day. Hull and Ewart-Shadoff combined for a better-ball score of 63, making five straight birdies at one point. Creamer and Thompson shot 31 on the front nine and still trailed.
Hull twice rolled in birdie putts with the Americans in close for birdie. Ewart-Shadoff hit driver on the 295-yard 14th hole, a shot that never left the flag and settled some 25 feet behind the cup for a two-putt birdie to win the hole and regain the lead.
With the match all square, Hull hit a 9-iron to a front pin on No. 17 that looked good all the way.
"I never had a hole-in-one before, so I thought when it pitched on the ground, I thought, `Well, this could be my chance to get one.' But it rolled up about 4 feet," Hull said. "And then I was quite nervous over the 4-footer, and then I rolled it in. It was just great."
Thompson had a 7-foot birdie putt on the 17th, and missed it on the low side.
"Both teams were making birdies practically every hole," said Ewart-Shadoff, an All-American at New Mexico. "It was really cool to be part of it."
Icher hasn't played in the Solheim Cup since 2002, which was the last time Europe had swept a session. It took a 9-7 lead that year at Interlachen, only for the Americans to rally. They will need their biggest one ever to avoid losing the Solheim Cup consecutive times.
The star for Europe has been Hedwall, playing in her second cup. She is the only player who will play all five matches in the mile-high air south of Denver, with a chance to become the first player in Solheim Cup history to go 5-0.
But this has been a team effort from the start – contributions from all six rookies, a steady hand from the veterans, a captain making all the right moves.
The Solheim Cup endured another black eye in officiating, this time on a different hole. A rules official allowed Ciganda to take an incorrect drop on the 15th hole after a 30-minute ruling on the opening day. On Friday, Recari and Kerr both went into the hazard on the 16th hole, and neither player could agree where it entered the hazard. After 31 minutes, they both took their drop. By then, the entire American team had gathered around the 18th green to watch the finish. It should have known the outcome.
Six out of the 16 matches have gone to the 18th hole, with Europe winning four of them and halving another.
Saturday afternoon four-balls:
Ewart/Hull, EUR, def. Creamer/Thompson, USA, 2 up
Munoz/Ciganda, EUR, def. Piller/Stanford, USA, 1 up
Hedwall/Masson, EUR, def. Wie/Korda, USA, 2&1
Recari/Icher, EUR, def. Kerr/Pressel, 1 up
Saturday morning foursomes:
Nordqvist/Hedwall, EUR, def. Pressel/Korda, USA, 2&1
Lewis/Creamer, USA, def. Munoz/Icher, EUR, 1 up
Matthew/Masson, EUR, vs. Lincicome/Salas, USA, halved
Wie/Lang, USA, def. Pettersen/Recari, EUR, 2&1