Korda conundrum: Heralded sisters struggling to find Solheim Cup points

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Toledo, Ohio — These events, whether it's the Solheim Cup or the Ryder Cup, always carry a pre-tournament narrative. And, too often, the narrative is blown to smithereens.

Take this week at Inverness Club, where it was supposed to be the Korda Show — featuring the sisters Nelly, No. 1 in the world, and Jessica, ranked 18th.

But after Sunday's second day in northwest Ohio, the Kordas have just won win between them, as Team USA trails Team Europe, 9-7, entering Monday's closing session of singles matches. Nelly Korda is 1-2, and Jessica Korda is 0-2. Two years ago at Gleneagles in Scotland, they were a combined 6-0-2, which led to sky-high expectations for the heavily favored Americans entering this week's installment.

Team USA's Jessica Korda lines up a putt on the 16th hole.

"I don't have any worries about them," Team USA captain Pat Hurst said Sunday.

"They played well. Like yesterday, they played well. They could have went either way."

It's true. The record doesn't necessarily tell the story of how they have played.

The Kordas played together in the opening session, Saturday's alternate shot, and ran into the buzz saw that is Team Europe's Mel Reid and Leona Maguire. The match went to the 18th hole, where Europe held on for the 1-up victory. The Kordas rallied from down two holes early to take the match the distance.

Team USA lost 3.5 of a possible four points in that opening session, even though all matches went to 18. So, sometimes, the final result doesn't tell the story.

Nelly Korda went back out in the afternoon, for best-ball with Ally Ewing, and they beat Team Europe's Nanna Koerstz Madsen and Madelene Sagstrom, 1-up.

Jessica Korda sat out Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning sessions, while Nelly Korda was back out for a third match Sunday morning — and it went quite poorly. Her game was off, big-time, and, paired again with Ewing, led to a blowout 5-and-4 loss, again to Reid and Maguire.

Nelly Korda sat Sunday afternoon (it was always planned for her to play three of four), while Jessica returned and, with Megan Khang, lost 1-up to Madsen and Carlota Ciganda. It was a heck of a match, with Korda making eagle at the par-5 second, and nearly holing out for another at the par-5 eighth.

"First of all, I didn't have to mix things around," Hurst said of her pairings, in relation to the Kordas' record. "We stuck to our plan.

"That's not what I didn't play them. I played them only one match today because I need them for my singles matches. That's where we usually shine."

In Monday singles, Nelly Korda, 23, a three-time winner this year including the Meijer LPGA Classic outside Grand Rapids and the Women's PGA (to say nothing of her gold medal in Tokyo), goes out third, and faces Georgia Hall at 12:35. Jessica, 28, plays Charley Hull at 1:45, in the second-to-last match.

Team Europe's Leona Maguire reacts on the 16th hole.

Irish eyes are smiling

Forget luck of the Irish. Try pluck of the Irish.

The star for Team Europe this week has undoubtedly been 26-year-old Maguire, who's never won on the LPGA Tour, but has been a force on the grounds of Inverness.

She's the only player from either team to have played all four sessions — three with Reid — and she hasn't lost, making big putt after big putt, big shot after big shot.

"I'm very, very impressed with her," Team Europe captain Catriona Matthew said. "I was impressed with her even before she made the team. I had watched (her) a little bit over this year and had followed her career over the last probably five or six years.

"She has the reputation of being a great match player, and I think she's shown everyone that's true."

Maguire had a decorated amateur career, which she capped at Duke, rising to the top of the world amateur rankings at age 20.

Her best LPGA Tour finish came this summer at the Meijer LPGA Classic, where she finished runner-up to Nelly Korda, winning $214,000.

In Monday's singles match, Maguire, the first Irish player to play in the Solheim Cup, is third out for Team Europe, and her opponent a rising star in her own right, Jennifer Kupcho, a Team USA rookie who's been super-clutch this week. Those two met in the final match to end Sunday, the thriller that ended in a halve when Reid hit her approach on the 18th to 18 inches.

Team USA's Lizette Salas reacts on the 13th hole.

Fitting finish

Ten of 16 matches through the first two rounds have gone to the 18th hole.

But the best match of the week, by far, goes to the Reid-Maguire halve with Kupcho and Lizette Salas on Sunday afternoon. There were enough big shots in that match to make Chauncey Billups blush.

And the finish was fantastic. Kupcho nearly chipped in on 16 and was conceded birdie, only for Maguire to pour in a 12-footer to halve. Then, at No. 17, Kupcho chipped in for birdie from behind the green to put the Americans 1-up. Finally, on 18, Reid hit a short iron from about 120 that ended up just inches from the cup. The shot didn't look great in the air, and it landed just barely over the greenside bunker on the left, but a generous hop out of the rough set up the tap-in birdie.

Kupcho and Salas had long putts for birdie, but missed, and the match was a tie. It was a pivotal swing, giving Europe a two-point lead entering Monday instead of a one-point lead. But perhaps a fitting finish, too.

"Obviously, we would have wanted a full point," Salas said. "But Europe is a tough competitor."

The match featured four players who are unbeaten this week. Salas and Kupcho are 2-0-1 playing their three matches together, and Reid is 2-0-1, as well. Maguire is 3-0-1.

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984