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John Garrity
September 30, 2002
The U.S. reclaimed the Solheim Cup by once again dominating singles
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September 30, 2002

Sunday Punch

The U.S. reclaimed the Solheim Cup by once again dominating singles

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An even better example of a made-for-match-play player is the free-swinging Davies, who at 38 hits more truly awful shots in a week than most pros hit in a year. But Davies can still play shots that inspire awe, such as the 275-yard bomb she launched on Friday afternoon with her driver from the right rough on the par-5 10th hole. (She made eagle.) Davies scored two points in five matches at Interlachen, making her the alltime Solheim Cup points leader with 16.

The go-for-broke nature of the format made for huge swings in momentum—or "Mother Mo," as Sheehan called it. After losing three of the four Friday morning matches to the Europeans, the U.S. recovered in the afternoon four-balls with three victories of its own, including a surprising 3-and-1 win by Mallon and Redman over Sorenstam and fellow Swede Maria Hjorth. The Americans continued their surge on Saturday morning with three foursomes victories. ("The rookies don't know we stink in this format," said Inkster, who got her first point in a strong partnership with Mallon.) The Europeans launched a furious counterattack in the afternoon, sweeping the four-balls to take a 9-7 lead.

That set up Sunday's drama, staged in glorious sunshine with autumnal zephyrs sharp enough to make the players bundle up in knit caps and quilted vests. The Europeans needed only five points to retain the Cup, and one seemed to be a given: match 6, in which their superstar, Sorenstam, was going against someone with a low Q-rating, a player dismissed by Nilsmark as "the nicest girl on the American team...maybe a little too nice for match play."

Was it a lost cause for Ward? It seemed so. NBC's Johnny Miller, watching Sorenstam erase an early Ward lead with birdies on the 12th and 13th holes, used the word inevitable. It was inevitable that Sorenstam, winner of 10 tournaments in 2002 alone, would brush aside Ward, who had finished no better than 12th in her last 20 starts. It was inevitable that Ward, who had never finished in the top 10 on the LPGA money list, would buckle. But Ward could have told them: It's match play, anything can happen.

"Annika and I go way back," Ward said later. "We've played together at least two dozen times since college, when she was at Arizona and I was at Arizona State. I'm very comfortable playing with her." Ward wondered if anybody remembered who had finished second to her last year when she established an LPGA record for lowest 54-hole winning score at the Wendy's Championship for Children at New Albany. (Answer: Annika Sorenstam.)

Sorenstam, who obviously knew Ward well enough to be worried, showed her vulnerability when she missed a three-foot putt for par on 14. Ward promptly returned the favor on 15 by failing to get up and down from a greenside bunker. But Ward kept plugging. As she had explained on Friday, "There's something about team sports that sort of flips my switch."

So they came to the final hole, the par-5 where Bobby Jones skipped his ball across the water on his way to victory in the 1930 U.S. Open. Sorenstam tried for birdie from 20 feet above the hole and watched in dismay as her ball stopped two inches short. Ward then tried to win the match outright with her own birdie try from seven feet below the hole. She showed her nerves for the first time all day with a dreadful stroke.

It didn't matter. "What an amazing performance," Sheehan said, fighting off tears. "That was really a huge half point for our side." Dale Reid, the European captain, agreed, saying, "We needed Annika's match to turn. If we could have gotten a win, we felt we could have done something."

Instead Ward's halve inspired the three Americans left standing. Pat Hurst chipped in for birdie on 16 to finish off Scotland's Mhairi McKay. Rosie Jones then snuffed out the Europeans' last hope with her come-from-behind victory over Icher, touching off a greenside celebration that started with hugs, tears and sighs of relief before escalating to the rote chant of U-S-A! U-S-A!

The actual last American standing? It was none other than Daniel, who played out the final two holes of her match in blissful irrelevance, splitting a meaningless point with Koch. Daniel's bigger contribution, of course, was her fight-to-the-end advice to Ward on Friday.

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