Karine Icher one of unlikely heroes
PARKER, Colo. -- You know what the golf experts say: Don't bet against Karine Icher on the fringe putting 45 feet from the hole.
Oh, wait? They don't say that? Well, maybe they do now. That and a lot of other outlandish things after the mind-boggling, remarkable, unexpected shellacking Team Europe put on the United States on Saturday afternoon at the Solheim Cup.
Remember the so-called "Miracle at Brookline," when the U.S. men staged a huge rally in singles -- winning 8½ points -- to take the 1999 Ryder Cup? The U.S. women must do even better than that to win the Solheim Cup, as they trail 10½ to 5½.
The Americans will need nine points Sunday at Colorado Golf Club; 8½ won't do it, because that would only give them a 14-14 tie, and then Europe -- as defending champion -- would retain the Cup.
No, you don't need your eyes tested. You've read all that correctly: The Europeans -- a team with six Solheim Cup rookies and a combined 21 LPGA Tour victories to the United States' 50 -- are not just leading this competition. They are running away and hiding with it. Europe is poised to win the Solheim Cup for the first time ever on American soil and the fifth time overall.
The Americans entered Saturday trailing 5-3 and seemed to right the ship a bit in the morning foursomes by winning 2½ points to 1½ for Europe. But then that ship hit the rocks and all but sank Saturday afternoon as the Europeans swept all four points in four-ball.
U.S. captain Meg Mallon said earlier this week that underdogs are "very scary." But Europe has turned into a holy terror, led by some players who've never even won an LPGA tournament.
Take Icher, for instance, a 34-year-old Frenchwoman who's spent much of her career on the Ladies European Tour. She played in one previous Solheim Cup, in 2002. Yet she was the one who put the last of a series of daggers into the Americans' hopes Saturday as she sank a post-sunset 45-footer for birdie on No. 18 that clinched the fourth point of the afternoon session.
Then there is the pairing of Sweden's Caroline Hedwall and Germany's Caroline Masson, two other players who have yet to win on the LPGA Tour. Unlike Icher, they are still youngsters. At 24, they were born a day apart in May 1989.
Caroline and Caroline beat Americans Michelle Wie and Jessica Korda 2 and 1. That put Hedwall at 4-0 in this competition. Sunday, she will try to become the first Solheim Cup player to go 5-0.
"I'm a really bad loser, so I just need to keep on winning," Hedwall said. "It's been a great two days so far, and I'm just enjoying it. It will be fun to play the singles [Sunday] as well."
The Americans won't be having any fun on the final day unless they can stage an epic rally, their biggest ever. Three times since this event began in 1990 Team USA has come back to take the Solheim Cup after trailing going into singles. But those deficits were manageable: by two points in 1996 and 2002 and by one in 2007.
Mallon will have to dig deep into the archives to inspire her team that the kind of rally they must have is indeed possible. The Americans won 10 points before in singles; that took place in 1996 when the event was held in Wales.
"Stranger things have happened," an appropriately cautious European captain Liselotte Neumann said, trying not to burst at the seams with her reserved version of Nordic joy. "We just really have to focus and try to do the same thing [Sunday] as today."
Saturday afternoon's four-ball result was, by any measure, an absolute stunner. The Europeans sat their three most experienced LPGA players, who between them have 17 victories on the tour: Suzanne Pettersen (11), Catriona Matthew (four) and Anna Nordqvist (two).
The eight players Europe put out in the afternoon had four LPGA Tour victories combined: three from Beatriz Recari, a Solheim rookie, and one from her fellow Spaniard Azahara Munoz.
Contrast that with the eight Americans who played Saturday afternoon; they have a combined 36 LPGA wins. Only one of the U.S. eight, Gerina Piller, has not won at least once on tour.
And yet, despite what seemed like a big advantage for the Americans, the afternoon was a disaster.
The first European group out paired Solheim rookies Jodi Ewart Shadoff, 25, and the youngest player in the event's history, 17-year-old Charley Hull. They went against Paula Creamer, who's been one of the better Solheim Cup players in U.S. history, and Lexi Thompson, a Solheim rookie at age 18.
The two young Englishwomen prevailed 2-up in a match with some brilliant play. The youngster Hull, who has been a pro only since March, had six birdies. Thompson had five.
"Both teams were making birdies practically every hole," Ewart Shadoff said. "So it was really cool to be a part of it."
From the other side of things, Creamer said, "It's unfortunate; we had some good chances and made some good shots, but we just didn't make enough."
There was a bit of a dust-up on the seventh hole of that match, when Creamer was about to stroke her par putt to help give Thompson a read for her birdie putt. Right then, Ewart Shadoff's caddie called out, "It's good," conceding the putt to Creamer.
Gamesmanship or just smart strategy, since Thompson needed the birdie to halve the hole? Mallon said she had heard from observers that it was European assistant captain Annika Sorenstam who told the caddie to concede the putt. Technically, assistant captains are not allowed to give advice during play, but Mallon said she was told by a United States Golf Association official that such a comment was not considered "advice."
It was all made moot by Thompson making her birdie putt, which prompted a huge roar from the crowd. Considering this is Ewart Shadoff's and Hull's first Solheim appearance -- and one of them is just 17 -- it's understandable they had this so called "etiquette breach."
And it didn't matter, considering how thoroughly the United States was defeated Saturday afternoon.
Angela Stanford and Piller, good friends who were playing together in four-ball for the second day in a row, lost, as they did Friday. Finishing them off, 1-up, with a birdie on No. 18 was Spain's Carlota Ciganda, a 23-year-old Solheim rookie who had stumbled through her four-ball match Friday but still won because partner Pettersen played so well.
Ciganda partnered with fellow Spaniard Munoz on Saturday and redeemed herself.
"[Friday] was my first day, first Solheim Cup," Ciganda said. "So when I went to the first tee, I was like, 'Oh my god. This is crazy.'
"And then playing with Suzann -- I mean it was great, because she's so competitive. But, at the same time, I felt a little bit nervous. And today, it was like playing just a normal event like we used to do in Spain or even in Europe."
Indeed, as the afternoon wore on and the scoreboard stayed tinted in European blue, it did start to feel as if this event was across the pond. The American crowd, doing everything it could to be boisterous, was quieted by the Europeans' terrific play.
The last match on the course had another interminable wait for a ruling, just as Friday's afternoon action did. In the time it took Cristie Kerr/Morgan Pressel and Recari/Icher to play No. 16, you could have watched a couple of sitcom episodes. It has been darkly comic how long it has taken officials to sort out issues with the hazards.
Kerr/Pressel was the last chance to salvage a half-point from the afternoon, and Kerr had a makeable birdie putt on No. 18. But Icher squelched even that U.S. hope with her fantastic birdie and a 1-up victory.
"That was just absolutely amazing," Neumann said of the putt, although she could have been talking about the entire afternoon for Europe.
Earlier this week, some of the European players talked about being inspired by the European men's rally in singles last year after being down 10-6 to win the Ryder Cup. The European women said their 2011 Solheim singles play -- they won 7-5 -- gave them confidence they could stage such a rally if they needed to this year.
But instead, the situation is completely opposite. It's the Americans who have their backs pinned firmly against the wall.
"I'm starting out with my strongest players, and that's what we have to do," Mallon said of her singles strategy. "I like my lineup. I love my team. I know they're upset, and I know they're motivated."
They'll have to be darn close to perfect, though, to win the Cup.