Sport - Golf - 2023 Solheim Cup Carlota Ciganda
Europe's Carlota Ciganda, right hugs playing partner Linn Grant on the 17th green after winning their afternoon fourball match at the Solheim Cup Image Credit: AP

Casares, Spain — Led by home-crowd favorite Carlota Ciganda, Europe picked up the pace at the Solheim Cup to pull even with the United States entering the decisive singles matches Sunday.

Ciganda, the only Spaniard in the European team, won both of her matches Saturday to maintain a perfect record as Europe drew level with the U.S. at 8-8 after splitting the morning foursomes and winning the afternoon fourballs.

Captain’s pick Emily Pedersen and rookie Linn Grant also won both of their matches on Saturday to help Europe come from behind at Finca Cortesin.

The contest will be decided by the 12 singles matches on Sunday, when Europe will try to win an unprecedented third straight Solheim Cup. The Europeans arrived as favorites but had to rally after the Americans took a 4-0 lead in Friday’s first session.

“I’m out of words, but we have to remember we are not there yet, there are still 12 points up for grabs tomorrow,” Europe captain Suzann Pettersen said. “We made quite a comeback, now we are tied and we’ll put it in fifth gear and keep going. If you look at how we started after yesterday’s morning, we’ve come a long way.”

The U.S. kept its two-point lead from the first day after the teams split the morning session on Saturday, but Europe was in control during most of the afternoon and ended up winning it 3-1.

“We certainly would have liked to have won a few more points today, but I’m not upset about our position,” U.S. team captain Stacy Lewis said. “I mean, if you look straight at the scoreboard, you would say momentum goes to Europe, but I can tell you the way the girls feel and the way I feel about how we played today, I like our momentum.”

Lewis rested some of her players on Saturday and none will be playing all five matches this week. Pettersen will have three players going all the way — Pedersen, Grant and Leona Maguire.

Clutch birdie by Ciganda

The Europeans sealed Saturday’s victory when Ciganda and Grant defeated Danielle Kang and Lilia Vu 2 and 1 in a match in which both teams made plenty of birdies. Europe was 8-under par through nine holes but only 1 up over the Americans. Grant made six birdies in a row to start the match. Carlota had a clutch birdie on the 16th to help Europe seal the win.

“So, so happy for Carlota to come here to Spain. Literally bring her A game. She’s been under a lot of pressure, probably mostly from herself. But the way she’s handled it so far has been very, very impressive,” Pettersen said. “That match in the afternoon between Carlota, Linn and the Americans was just unbelievable to watch.”

Ciganda is the only player to win all of her matches. She won three straight sessions after sitting out the opening one on Friday.

Big day tomorrow

“Playing in Spain in front of my family, home crowd, friends, I just love it,” Ciganda said. “I’m embracing this week. I think it’s been great. I still have a big day tomorrow, but I’m just trying to enjoy it.”

Maguire and Charley Hull earlier defeated Nelly Korda and Ally Ewing 4 and 3. Maguire, who thrived in her Solheim Cup debut two years ago, made birdies on nearly half of her holes.

“Suzann was pretty clear on what our job was today, so mission accomplished,” Maguire said. “One more day to give it our best shot and I think that’s the great thing about this team, there’s so much fight in this team. We’ve never given up.”

The Americans won its lone point in the afternoon when Cheyenne Knight and Angel Yin finished 2 up against veterans Caroline Hedwall — who had not played previously this week — and Anna Nordqvist, one of the vice captains for Europe.

Pedersen, playing in her fourth consecutive session, teamed up with Madelene Sagstrom for a 2 and 1 win over Rose Zhang and Andrea Lee.

“I think Emily’s a great pick, isn’t she?” Pettersen said. “I think she’s done fairly well.”

In the morning, Swedish rookies Grant and Maja Stark kept it close for Europe by making crucial birdie putts on their final two holes to help the hosts keep the deficit at 7-5. Stark and Grant defeated Kang and Lee 1 up in the final group to secure a 2-2 split.

“I think we came out with a more aggressive mindset today. Losing yesterday was not fun. Our first loss ever,” Grant said. “So we kind of had a different view of it today and just went out and crushed it from the start.”

Europe got the first point on Saturday with Ciganda and Pedersen winning 2 and 1 against Jennifer Kupcho and Vu, the world No. 2 who is yet to win a match at Finca Cortesin.

Korda, ranked No. 3 in the world, and U.S. Women’s Open champion Allisen Corpuz gave the U.S. its first point by cruising 5 and 3 past Georgia Hall and Celine Boutier in the final morning group. Boutier, the top-ranked European who was playing some of the best golf ahead of the Solheim Cup, remains winless.

U.S. veteran Lexi Thompson and Megan Khang picked up their second win by defeating Maguire and Nordqvist 1 up. The American duo was rested in the afternoon session.