ANDALUCIA, Spain — Everyone knew it would happen. When it was announced that the 2023 Solheim Cup would be played at Finca Cortesin in Andalucia, Spain, no one wanted a spot on the European team more than Pamplona native Carlota Ciganda. And she’s delivered thus far, going 3-0-0 in foursomes and fourball to lead the Euros as they look to track down their third consecutive Solheim Cup.
Ciganda definitely earned her place in Spain this week, recording seven top-five finishes on the LPGA Tour and winning three times on the Ladies European Tour during the qualifying period, which began after the 2021 Solheim Cup and ran until after the ISPS Handa World Invitational. Her efforts put her high enough in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings following the LET and LPGA Tour’s annual stop in Northern Ireland to automatically qualify for the team.
She didn’t play the opening foursomes session on Friday, something that surprised many, but Ciganda’s captain and former Solheim Cup teammate Suzann Pettersen wanted to give her friend a second to breathe and take in the moment, allowing the Spaniard to ready herself to go to battle for the Blue and Yellow. It was a smart decision, one that’s paid off as proved by Ciganda’s undefeated ranking.
“So, so happy for Carlota to come here to Spain,” said the European captain. “Literally bringing her A game. She's been under a lot of pressure, probably mostly from herself. But the way she's handled it so far has been very, very impressive. That match in the afternoon between Carlota, Linn and the Americans was just unbelievable to watch.”
Ciganda’s first match was the Friday afternoon fourball and the veteran took rookie Linn Grant under her wing after the Swede lost in the morning foursomes and showed her how to win in the Solheim Cup, defeating Angel Yin and Ally Ewing 4 and 2. Saturday morning foursomes saw the 33-year-old tee it up alongside another former teammate, this time captain’s pick Emily Kristine Pedersen. It was a genius pairing and one that paid off as the pair stove off Jennifer Kupcho and Lilia Vu, never trailing the American duo and closing them out on 17, 2 and 1.
But it was the Saturday afternoon fourball that arguably saw the most highlights from Ciganda. Teamed once again with Grant and taking on Danielle Kang and Vu, the pair birdied their first five holes to sit tied with the Americans. On the par-3 6th, the Euros managed to take a 1-up lead after a Ciganda birdie. They held it until Kang tied things back up with a birdie on 10.
A Grant birdie on 11 returned the lead to the Europeans. Ciganda extended their advantage to two with a birdie on the next, but that was quickly erased when the Americans made a birdie of their own on 13. Europe then led by one with five holes to play.
After tying holes 14 and 15, Ciganda stepped to the 16th tee and crushed her drive down the middle of the fairway, hitting her approach shot to roughly ten feet and setting up a birdie opportunity that would move Europe two ahead once again with two holes to play. Fans in a jam-packed gallery and hospitality tent craned their necks to get a look at Ciganda as she readied herself to make some more magic. She and her caddie stalked the putt, and as she stepped over the ball, you almost knew it was going in, even before the putter touched the ground.
The ball was a foot away from the cup when the Spaniard started to raise her putter, and when it hit the bottom of the hole, Ciganda let a roar rip out of her that was deafened only by the cheers of the surrounding crowds. Europe was now 2 up with two to play.
Ciganda and Grant only needed to tie the Americans with a par on 17 to repeat the fourball record they had earned on Friday, and while Danielle Kang gave her birdie try a good run, it just wasn’t enough. Ciganda and Grant had once again put a point on the board for the Euros, a hard-fought one of which the Spaniard was especially proud.
“Playing in Spain in front of my family, home crowd, friends, I just love it. I love this. I'm embracing this week,” Ciganda said. “I still have a big day tomorrow, but I'm just trying to enjoy it. We played some amazing golf. Everyone, not only us, but Danielle and Lilia played some amazing golf. I think we shot 8-under on the front, and we made eight straight birdies in a row, so I don't know how many birdies we've made, the four of us combined. But just a great round of golf and very happy we won at the end.”
As much as Ciganda’s fire and passion helped propel the pair to victory, Solheim Cup rookie Grant held her own on Saturday afternoon, going 6-under on her first six holes. With her partner playing such solid golf, Grant felt free to attack a challenging Finca Cortesin and go as low as she possibly could on her own ball, something the Swede does well.
“We all made a lot of birdies and it's so nice to have someone next to you that you know that they're up for making birdies on every hole, so you can be aggressive, and you can go for it and relax but still be on it,” Grant said. “It's just a great feeling. I think today I showed some momentum and just try to bring that out for tomorrow and keep that feeling going, keep the excitement going, and be one with the crowd.”
And while riding momentum will be Grant’s strategy on Day Three, Ciganda will be relying on her pure passion and relentless ferocity to propel her to a victory over American superstar Nelly Korda. It’s sure to be one of the marquee matches as both players have shown up and out for their respective countries. And no one is more fired up right now than Ciganda.
“I love Suzann, I love the Cup, and I love Laura, Caroline, and I think it's been a great week so far. I want to win here in Spain tomorrow,” she said. “I really want to win for Suzann because I think she's been a great captain. She deserves this. Hopefully, we can go out there and get as many points as possible and win the Cup.”
Only Sunday singles will tell. But it’s safe to say that Ciganda will continue to do whatever she can to deliver, just like she already has at the 2023 Solheim Cup.