Carlota Ciganda the home hero as Europe retain Solheim Cup in dramatic style

Members of the Europe team celebrate a hit from Carlota Ciganda
Members of the Europe team celebrate a hit from Carlota Ciganda - AP/Bernat Armangue

Europe retained the Solheim Cup here in dramatic circumstances on Sunday. The home team did not win - in the conventional sense - but the euphoric celebrations after the 14-14 draw signified this felt every bit like a triumph and that history had been made.

With the King of Spain watching on, Carlota Ciganda, the home favourite, won the crucial point that ensured the blue and gold keep hold of the Cup going into a fourth match. Never have they clasped on to the crystal trophy for so long. It was a scenario they would have accepted gladly when they were whitewashed 4-0 in Friday’s opening foursomes.

Of course, Suzann Pettersen’s team were chasing an unprecedented third win in succession and in the middle of an enthralling - at times excruciating - afternoon, this seemed almost a formality. What followed was an hour in which the Stars and Stripes unfurled over the hilly Costa del Sol layout, with Team USA suddenly with the leaderboard in their control.

Georgia Hall missed a five-footer on the 16th and then three-putted from eight feet on the 17th to gift Andrea Lee a half. In behind, Scottish rookie Gemma Dryburgh let a two-up lead slip, as Cheyenne Knight also claimed an unlikely half. At that stage, with the visitors 13-11 to the good and leading in two of the matches left on the course, the portents were the opposite of the glorious sunshine.

Ciganda will no doubt command the Iberian headlines - and with good reason considering the manner she kept her nerve when world No 3 Nelly Korda clawed back to level with three holes remaining. The 33-year-old finished with four points from four matches - and was the obvious player of the match.

Royal approval: King Felipe watches on at the Solheim Cup
Royal approval: King Felipe of Spain watches Europe's Carlota Ciganda at the Solheim Cup - AP/Bernat Armangue

“I’m so happy just to do this for Suzann, for Spain, I’m just so proud,” Ciganda said. “When I saw Suzann on the 16th she told me a couple of things and I was like, ‘I’m just going to do this for her’, because I love her and she deserves this. I love my team, I love Europe, I love Spain, I love Solheim Cups.”

Pettersen was just as effusive. “I think it’s meant to be - it came down to Carlota in Spain, in her own hands,” the Norwegian said. “I walked with her down 16 and said: ‘Is this how you wanted it because it’s all in your hands now?’ and she’s like ‘I’m up for it’.

“We have the best team. I’m so proud of them, they play with their heart, there’s no such thing as giving up no matter what the challenge is. We got off to a rough start but we don’t look back, the sky’s the limit.”

Ciganda’s hero-worship was well deserve but Caroline Hedwall was just as big a part of the Sunday story. Maybe even more so.

With six holes left, the world No. 121 who had been struggling all week with her game, was three down to Ally Ewing. But Hedwall, a surprise and courageous wildcard on Pettersen’s behalf, birdied five of those six holes to win two-up. The Swede’s 20-footer on the 17th to take the lead, created such a din that the Europe cause appeared irresistible.

Solheim Cup celebrations after Carlota Ciganda won her match - Carlota Ciganda the home hero as Europe retain Solheim Cup in dramatic style
Team Europe celebrate Carlota Ciganda holing the putt that ensured retention of the Solheim Cup - Shutterstock/Casares Malaga
Carlota Ciganda of Team Europe celebrates with the Solheim Cup after her teams win
Carlota Ciganda was one of the stars of the European team - Getty Images/Stuart Franklin

However, in behind, Korda had fought back from three-down to pull level at the 15th. She hit her second into 16th to seven feet and yet again the pendulum swung. Step up Ciganda, the women from Pamplona, to fire in her approach to a few feet. Andalucia went wild and when Ciganda fired in her tee-shot to three feet on the 17th, Stacy Lewis, the US captain, knew she was going home empty-handed.

In the last match, Lexi Thompson was two-under with three remaining against Emily Pedersen. If the Dane could grab a half it would present Europe with the ultimate triumph. But Thompson stayed strong and the party could start. The first draw in Solheim history, but that felt scant consolation to Lewis and her team.

“What a moment for Carlota and women’s golf. I mean, such a cool finish there,” Lewis said. “My team played their hearts out. Just so proud of them, the way they fought. We played the back nine better all week, and they just hung in there and hung in there with every match.

“I just told them, we didn’t lose. You know, it was a tie and there was so much to build off this week. These things come down to one shot or one putt and it’s just amazing of all the matches that we played, that that’s what it comes down to.”

Of course, Americans do not fully understand the concept of a tie - an essentially losing in the process - and they will simply be relieved the same captains will reconvene for another Solheim Cup - brought forward to even years to separate it from the Ryder Cup - in North Virginia.