Solheim Cup: Carlota Ciganda delivered for Europe against US at course not fit for purpose

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Dame Laura Davies says it was no coincidence that Spain’s Carlotta Ciganda ensured Europe retained the Solheim Cup on the Costa del Sol.

Britain’s most enduring and successful female golfer also ranks the thrilling climax to the continent’s defence of the trophy as one of the most exciting she has ever witnessed.

And it is impossible to argue with Davies’ assessment.

Ciganda’s extraordinary birdies on the 16th and 17th holes at Finca Cortesin to beat Nelly Korda in the penultimate match prompted joyous celebrations among exuberant European fans.

It was another Solheim thriller, spoiled only by the haphazard organisation at the Spanish venue and underfunded television coverage. The players and fans deserved better.

Not that Europe’s dynamic dozen, led by Norwegian skipper Suzann Pettersen, cared much as they partied long into Sunday night after a 14-14 tie against Stacy Lewis’ plucky Americans.

“It was amazing wasn’t it,” Davies told BBC Sport, after Ciganda prompted those raucous and royal celebrations next to the 17th green.

It had been the intention all along to give the Spaniard the chance of being Europe’s hero in the first Solheim Cup to be staged on Spanish soil. “That’s why we put here there,” Davies said.

“We thought the last two matches would be important. As it turned out it was matches 10 and 11, really.

“We had the thought of her holing the winning putt. As it was it was the retaining putt. The fact that Carlotta was there and the king was by the green, it doesn’t get much better.”

Ciganda had been pegged back to all square after 15 holes by Korda, who then sent an accurate approach to six feet on the 16th. But then destiny took its dramatic hold.

The 33-year-old from Pamplona knocked her second shot to tap-in range, sending thousands of European fans into raptures. The volume cranked further when she holed the putt that put her back in front.

Moments later, Ciganda nearly knocked the stick out of the hole with her tee shot on the par-three 17th and Korda was beaten, prompting pandemonium. On a day of unrelenting fluctuation, fortune finally rested with the home team.

“For excitement, it probably has to be one on of the best ever,” Davies, who played in a dozen Solheim Cups including the inaugural match in 1990, said of this compelling contest.

The winner of an astonishing 87 titles says only Pettersen’s heroics at Gleneagles four years ago, when the Norwegian sank the winning putt in the final match on the course, could rival the events of last weekend.

“I think Suzann Pettersen’s putt on 18 in Scotland was number one, but this is probably number two in Solheim stuff,” Davies said.

“Obviously we knew we only needed 14 and so when we got to 14 that’s when the celebrations started. At one point, I couldn’t find the six points we needed.

“We kept looking at the list and then Caroline Hedwall turned it around [against Ally Ewing] with that amazing finish and that was the extra half a point that we couldn’t find and she found it.”

Hedwall’s astonishing win, having been three down with six to play, vindicated Pettersen’s decision to choose the world number 122 as one of her wildcard selections.

“That’s why she was one of the captain’s picks because she has Solheim experience. It doesn’t matter how well you’re playing, Solheim Cup is a very, very different experience and she knew at that time she could turn it on.

“And we’ve seen her do it year after year in the Solheim and she did it again.”

The European team room was full of heroes despite stumbles from winning positions by Georgia Hall and Scotland’s Gemma Dryburgh. Both Britons secured halves when wins seemed more likely.

Ireland’s Leona Maguire landed Europe’s first point with an inspirational 4&3 win over debutant Rose Zhang. The dogged Irishwoman has played every session in her two Solheims.

The 28-year-old from County Cavan has lost only once and that was when the continent were swept 4-0 in last Friday’s opening alternate shot foursomes.

Maguire maxes every ounce of her game and seemed powered by the most enduring internal batteries on this extraordinarily undulating course. “Leona doesn’t get tired and her caddie Dermot Byrne doesn’t get tired,” Davies said.

“They just want put points on the board for us. She’s not one of the longest hitters, she doesn’t need to be. She is so accurate, has so much heart and proved again that she is one of the best.”

And as a sporting spectacle this Solheim Cup was certainly one of the best we have witnessed. But too many spectators will have returned home having endured a less than satisfactory experience.

There were ridiculous queues for understocked food outlets and no potable water for refill bottles. Early in the week many recounted stories of having food, drink and suncream confiscated by security on arrival.

There was little shade for respite from the hot weather and while the course offered spectacular holes and views, navigating it on foot was far too difficult. In truth, it was not fit for purpose.

Spectators were frequently caught in bottleneck logjams moving from one hole to the next. The appointed taxi system to ferry fans to and from the course, sitting high in the hills overlooking the Costa del Sol, was a shambles.

There were stories of spectators having to walk miles back to the town of Estepona to return to their accommodation.

Meanwhile, on television the coverage lacked the sophistication we now associate with the professional game. There were only a couple of holes with tracer technology and no yardages for shots to greens.

Captioning, especially on that frantic final day, was haphazard and inaccurate. When Ciganda settled over that crucial putt, the television screen stated it was to win the Solheim Cup.

That was wrong, it was to ensure Europe would retain the trophy. Get it right. The players did and both teams deserved a better showcase to the watching world.

We move on now to Rome and the Ryder Cup. Better resourced, the men of Europe and the US will surely enjoy golf’s grandest stage and the most lavish of coverage.

Even so, this week has plenty to do to live up to the sporting drama we witnessed in Spain.

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