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Europe's ladies shine in County Meath

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Suzann Pettersen  of Europe celebrates her team's victory on the 18th green with Laura Davies at Killeen Castle Golf Club in County Meath, Ireland.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Suzann Pettersen is what they call a “fine thing” in Meath. Even at 10 a.m. the morning after the night before, standing in the grounds of a Dunboyne hotel, the Norwegian is easy on the eye.

Not that she thought so herself early last Monday as she agreed to discuss one of the most dramatic sporting events ever witnessed with some of us who had been lucky enough to be there the day before.

“I wasn’t expecting a press conference so you have to take me as you find me,” said European sport’s latest heroine, and no one complained.

A lot of you won’t know this, but Suzann Pettersen is the second best female golfer in the world. She’s a Florida resident who regularly wins on the LPGA Tour in America.

And last Sunday, right across the road from my house, she helped Europe’s ladies to a quite sensational win over the reigning champions from America in golf’s Solheim Cup, the female equivalent of the Ryder Cup as the TV companies kept telling us all last week.

Team America, which you may not know either, is the Manchester United of the Solheim Cup.

Before Sunday they had won all bar three of the previous 11 editions of this tournament and have never, ever been beaten on American soil.

They’d also never been beaten on Irish soil but only because the Solheim Cup had never been to our shores before and is unlikely to return anytime soon.  More’s the pity.

Killeen Castle, the Jack Nicklaus-designed course I have to pass every time I leave the house, was the host venue last weekend for the first meeting of these two teams in Ireland. And what a meeting it was.

With about an hour left on Sunday afternoon, after the second return of the day to the clubhouse while the Irish weather did its best to spoil the party as usual, America looked home if not dry in the 2011 Solheim Cup.

The scoreboard was predominantly red and the back three games on Sunday’s card were all going America’s way.

That’s when Pettersen stood up to the plate in a manner which Euro captain Alison Nicholas rightly identified, on Monday morning beside a statue to Sean Boylan in that same Dunboyne hotel, as the true mark of a champion.

Pettersen had shared a buggy back to the far corner of the course, built on the ancestral home of Oliver Plunkett no less, with rookies Azahara Munoz of Spain and Caroline Hedwall of Sweden. All three were down in their matches, all three needed to win points for Europe to have any chance of a first victory since 2003.

“I stopped the girls when we got off the cart and I told them very simply that the three of us had to do something to save the match for Europe, we had to bring points home from that cart,” revealed Suzann as she spoke to the Sky cameras without as much as a hint of make-up but with a warm glow on her face on Monday morning.

Norway’s finest didn’t just talk the talk as the skies cleared long enough to finish this wonderful event on Sunday afternoon.

Pettersen birdied the final three holes to beat the great Michelle Wie and turn the tide in Europe’s favor. Hedwall responded with a win on the 17th and a sensational approach to the 18th that stopped a certain victory for Big Break winner Ryann O’Toole.

And Munoz hit the best approach to the 17th this course has ever witnessed to take victory in her match with Angela Stanford.

Europe – led by three ladies in a cart – had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the grounds of an Irish castle and sport had once again defied logic.

We didn’t really know what to expect from the Solheim Cup last weekend but we got a sporting drama those of us who were there will never forget.

Suzann Pettersen is welcome back anytime – with or without the make-up. 


Sideline Views

RUGBY: Europe’s unlikely lasses aren’t the only ones who know all about the uncertainty of sport at the highest level right now. A fortnight ago Declan Kidney’s rugby team could do no wrong after their brilliant win against Australia. Now the country is on tenterhooks ahead of Sunday’s Rugby World Cup clash with Italy.

The bottom line is that a win sends Ireland into the last eight as Pool C winners. A defeat sends them home. Hard to believe, after all the brilliance of that Aussie win, that the World Cup has come down to this for Dricco and Co.

For what it’s worth, Ireland will get the win they need against Italy in my humble opinion. I have every faith in this Irish team.

They did the hard work against the Wallabies and they are not going to let that slip now against an Italian side that shouldn’t be in their league nine games out of 10.

GAA: Age catches up with every great footballer, but injury may be more the reason why the former Tyrone captain Brian Dooher has just quit the game he loves at 36. Dooher leaves with three All-Ireland medals in his pocket, two of them as captain, and a great reputation as a good footballer and a fair but tough player. Tyrone’s football wasn’t always the best to watch in their heyday but Dooher was a master of his craft. They will find it hard to replace him but they know that already from recent experience.

SOCCER: Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson has claimed this week that English football sold its soul to the devil when it struck a deal with satellite broadcasters over 20 years ago. He may well have a point, but without the revenue handed over to football by those same television companies, United wouldn’t have the likes of Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand on their books, they wouldn’t dominate the Premier League and Fergie probably wouldn’t be in the job right now. All of which he neglected to mention.

GOLF: God bless the 16 young fellows from Douglas golf club in Cork who decided to support their mate Rory Clarke when he caddied for Germany’s Sandra Gal at the Solheim Cup. The lads arrived up in Meath for Sunday’s final round dressed in typical German lederhosen in honor of Sandra’s homeland. The pity for them is that it rained cats and dogs for most of Sunday. And they tell me that short leather hotpants are very uncomfortable when it’s wet. Not that I’d know.

SOCCER: Robbie Keane has opted to put country before club next week and travel to Dublin to link up with the Ireland squad when his LA Galaxy teammates are playing their re-arranged match against the Red Bulls in New York. The MLS game is now what you guys call a dead rubber and Robbie has made the right decision, but it’s a pity he won’t get to play against Thierry Henry next week.  I’d have traveled and paid to see that one!

SOCCER: Glad to report that young Manchester City defender Greg Cunningham is alive and well and on the road to recovery after his serious knee injury last season. Greg has already returned to action with the City reserves and is in the Ireland under-21 squad for their upcoming clash with Lichtenstein. Giovanni Trapattoni could do with a new left-back so the sooner the Galway youngster is back to full fitness the better.


HEROES OF THE WEEK
What's seldom is wonderful, and I would bet my bottom dollar right now, that a team of female golfers will never be feted in such a manner in this column again, but hats off to the women who flew the flag for Europe at Killeen Castle last Friday, Saturday and Sunday and won the Solheim Cup for the first time in four attempts. The drama in the final three holes of the final three games on Sunday was something else and made the whole event worthwhile just on its own. Well done girls.

IDIOT OF THE WEEK
Words, as well us journalists know, can come back to bite you when you least expect them to. A month ago, the American Solheim Cup captain Rosie Jones picked Big Break winner Ryann O’Toole as one of her two wildcards for the Solheim Cup trip to Ireland. O’Toole responded by looking forward to “kicking Europe’s butt” when she got to Co. Meath. On Sunday, the same Ryann O’Toole broke down uncontrollably when she failed to beat Caroline Hedwall in the penultimate match at the Solheim and handed the trophy to Europe. Guess who got their butt kicked?!

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