DUNSANY, Ireland -- This Solheim Cup feels like one of those baseball games where a team leads the entire way, leaves a lot of runners on base, and then loses in the last inning and regrets squandered opportunities. That the United States is tied 8-8 going into Sunday's singles play has to be an enormous emotional lift for a team that has played from behind all week.
That is not to say Europe doesn't have a chance to win Sunday at Killeen Castle and end a three-match winning streak by the Americans in the Solheim Cup. In fact, more Europeans are playing better than more Americans. They stand a very good chance. But so many opportunities have been wasted, you can't help but think they will be regretted.
When Laura Davies and Melissa Reid closed out Brittany Lang and Michelle Wie in the Saturday afternoon four-ball match 4 and 3 -- making Davies the all-time Solheim Cup points leader -- Europe had an 8-5 lead. But the Americans won the next three matches, the last of which -- Paula Creamer and Brittany Lincicome over Maria Hjorth and Azahara Munoz -- mirroring the late-round futility that has haunted Europe this week.
On Friday, when Europe took a 4.5 to 3.5 lead, the U.S. team earned all of its points in four matches where they were at best all square stepping to the 16th tee. Two of those matches were kicked away by Europe and two were won by clutch birdie putts by Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Christina Kim and Ryann O'Toole, who has silence her critics by going 2-0-1 the first two days.
In Saturday afternoon's four-ball matches, Hjorth and Munoz were all-square with Creamer and Lincicome after No. 13, but were closed out on No. 17. And Suzann Pettersen and Caroline Hedwall were all square after No. 16, but lost 1 down after Pressel birdied No. 17. "Huge," U.S. captain Rosie Jones said about the Saturday afternoon comeback. "I really felt like I had to get the big guns back out on the golf course," she said about the teams she fielded Friday afternoon.
In what seems like a bad omen for Sunday, Europe seems like it can't win the close matches. Of the 10 matches that have ended on Nos. 17 or 18, the Americans have won six with two halves while Europe has captured just two.
Still, Europe has appeared to be deeper and the fact captain Alison Nicholas was able to rest Sophie Gustafson, who has won all three of her matches, and Catriona Matthew, who is 2-0-1, Saturday afternoon is a plus. "The Americans came back at us a little bit," said Nicholas. "We just didn't hole the putts coming in. I'm feeling very good about tomorrow."
While the Americans have been powered by Creamer, Pressel, Kerr and O'Toole -- with Angela Stanford, Juli Inkster, Brittany Lang and Vicky Hurst failing to get a point -- Europe has had only two players who have failed to contribute -- Karen Stupples and Christel Boeljon. They have put up much more of a team effort.
"All of our players know we have over-played some of the girls in the past," said Nicholas. "But I've rested players for tomorrow. That was my strategy." And it is a strategy that may pay off.
Kerr and Creamer, who will be the only two players for either team to play all five matches, have both played 71 holes -- all but one of the number possible. You have to wonder how much they will have left in the tank for singles.
"I really had no intention of playing anyone all five matches," said U.S. captain Rosie Jones. "Yeah, I'm a little worried [that Kerr and Creamer might be tired], I wish I could have rested them. But I had a two-point deficit." Asked about the play of O'Toole, Jones said: "This is what I saw in her when I made her a captain's pick."
The United States needs six points in the singles matches to retain the Solheim Cup with a 14-14 draw. Europe needs 14 ¿ points at the end of Sunday to bring the Cup back to this side of the Atlantic for the first time since losing it at Crooked Stick in 2005. Toward that end, both captains went with significant firepower early in the singles matched
Creamer and Matthew go out first, followed by Lewis and Gustafson and then Pressel and Nordqvist. The fourth match has veterans Inkster and Davies squaring off followed by Hurst and Reid and then Lincicome and Boeljon.
Lang takes on Gal in Match 7 with Kim and Hjorth in Match 8 and Wie and Pettersen in Match 9. The closing groups are O'Toole and Hedwall, Stanford and Munoz with Critstie Kerr and Karen Stupples in the last match.
Europe will be better rested and deeper going into singles play, but up until now, virtually all of the big putts have been made by the United States -- and that's what wins Solheim Cups. This feels very much like a contest that is going to be decided very late on Sunday.
-- Ron Sirak
(Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)