Hedwall sparks Euro party

VICTORIOUS European Solheim Cup captain Alison Nicholas was crowned the queen of Killeen Castle and the emotions flowed as freely as the rain and the champagne in County Meath yesterday evening.

As darkness began to fall in Dunsany, European ladies’ golf basked in the glory of a 15-13 victory over the USA and a first Solheim Cup win in four attempts.

The Eurostars danced under a giant poster of America’s Ryder Cup nemesis Seve Ballesteros and everyone bar those of a Stars and Stripes persuasion went home happy.

Tearful captain Nicholas was chaired shoulder high by the heroines of Europe’s first win since 2003 on a day filled with so many contrasting but ultimately happy memories for the Euro gang of 12 and their very own Green Army.

The weather did its best to ruin the script prepared so meticulously by those responsible for the tournament’s first visit to Ireland as two weather interruptions served only to delay the party.

The late and shock withdrawal of wrist injury victim Cristie Kerr handed a walkover win to Karen Stupples in the final match of the 12 singles as the English girl waited on the tee.

Then star of the week Catriona Matthew, from Scotland, annihilated America’s MVP Paula Creamer with a 6&5 win in the opening game for a result that had the underdogs from Europe dreaming.

Yet all that was nothing compared to the final drama on Killeen’s very own Amen Corner as anticipation turned to celebration on the wonderful stretch from the 16th tee-box to an 18th green nestled beneath the Castle walls.

For once, the foreign invader failed to leave the Royal County with the spoils of war as world number two Suzann Pettersen and rookies Caroline Hedwall and Azahara Munoz turned the firepower on when it really mattered.

Nicholas had picked her own seven nation army for this one but it was the Norwegian, the Swede and the Spaniard who delivered when it really mattered.

Pettersen, one down after 15, somehow dug deep and birdied the final three holes to claim the scalp of Michelle Wie.

Hedwall, the hottest property in Scandinavia since Euro vice-captain Annika Sorenstam, was two down with two to play in her first Solheim Cup but the pressure was invisible as far as the 22-year-old was concerned.

An amateur a year ago, Hedwall never led in her match with Big Break winner Ryann O’Toole and even trailed by two with two to play.

Then she hit a divine approach to 17 to win the hole with a birdie and sealed the Solheim Cup deal for Europe with a brilliant three on the 18th for the half point needed for victory.

Captain’s pick Munoz played cat and mouse all day with Angela Stanford in the final match on course before a stunning approach to 17 set up the birdie that ripped the heart out of America’s sails.

By the time Munoz got to the 18th green — where both putts were conceded to confirm the 15-13 win for Europe — the party was in full swing.

“I don’t know how I did it but I was somehow able to dig it out,” said Norway’s Pettersen as she prepared to return to the LPGA Tour in America with a massive smile on her face and the Solheim Cup in her hand luggage.

“I seemed to get older every time I hit a shot today. I think I have more gray hair than when I started the final round but it’s worth it, this is just fantastic.

“We had a tough challenge going into the singles but Alison was fantastic as captain and she couldn’t have done any better. We knew it was going to come down to the final couple of games if we had a chance.

“What a way to finish on home soil. This is an outstanding win and great for European golf.”

Captain Nicholas hugged almost everyone on the course before adding her congratulations to Pettersen, Hedwall and Munoz.

“Suzanne is a champion and she showed today what champions are made of,” said Nicholas. “She is the best and what a rookie performance from Caroline Hedwall.

“She is a class act, a real star for the future. I can’t say enough about those players, that crowd and this win. It is the best ever, better than anything I have ever achieved in golf before now.”

As Laura Davies celebrated a fourth win over the Americans in 12 Solheim Cup attempts, she too claimed: “This might be the best one yet.”

The English legend, who set a new Solheim Cup points record with a fourball win on Saturday and a singles half yesterday, paid tribute to the tail-enders who brought the bacon home for Europe.

“Suzann had some finish, Caroline somehow won those final two holes and then Aza finished it all off. It is incredible, a marvellous moment for all of us.”

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