Leona Maguire and Mel Reid arrived at Inverness last week as strangers.
They’ll leave as good friends. Maybe with the Solheim Cup.
The European duo helped the visitors take a 9-7 lead over the United States into Monday’s singles, combining to topple top-ranked Nelly Korda and Ally Ewing in alternate-shot play Sunday morning, then scrambling to tie Jennifer Kupcho and Lizette Salas in four-ball in the afternoon.
Reid and Maguire crushed the struggling Korda and Ewing 5 and 4 — the biggest blowout of any of the opening 16 matches — then halved with Kupcho and Salas when Reid knocked it to 3 feet on the par-4 18th to pull even.
Reid’s heroics came minutes after Kupcho chipped in from the fringe on the 17th to put the Americans in front. Reid, dealing with shooting pain in her right shoulder that required medical attention earlier in the round, responded by dropping a rainbow from the 18th fairway that bounced on the collar of a front greenside bunker before rolling to practically tap-in range.
Reid and Maguire, who barely knew each other before European captain Catriona Matthew paired them following a series of energetic practice rounds, went 2-0-1 on the weekend. Maguire, a 26-year-old former college star at Duke who is the first Irishwoman to make a Solheim Cup team, is 3-0-1 so far.
Europe is trying to win on U.S. soil for just the second time in the 31-year history of the event. This is the ninth time Europe has led going into the singles matches. The Europeans have won just four of the previous eight times they were in front after two days, the last in 2013 when they scored their lone road victory at Colorado Golf Club.
Europe began Sunday with a three-point lead and appeared on the verge of blowing out the U.S. after briefly jumping ahead in all four of the morning’s alternate-shot matches.
The Americans rallied to win three of four to get back into contention and had the lead on the back nine in three of the four four-ball matches.
Only rookies Mina Harigae and Yealimi Noh held on to win outright. Harigae and Noh never trailed while beating Celine Boutier and Sophia Popov 3 and 1, going in front for good on Harigae’s birdie on the par-4 14th and taking command on the 20-year-old Noh’s birdie on the short par-4 16th.
Megan Khang and Jessica Korda saw a slim 1-up lead after 11 holes against Carlota Ciganda and Nanna Koerstz Madsen turn into a 1-up loss after Ciganda’s long birdie at the par-4 15th put the Europeans in front and the tying birdie attempts by the Americans at the 18th came up well short.
Emily Pedersen’s eagle at the par-5 eighth squared her and Charley Hull’s match with the U.S. team of Austin Ernst and Danielle Kang. By the 12th, the Europeans were on their way to a 3-and-2 win.
The Americans played the afternoon without Olympic champion Nelly Korda, who looked as if she needed a break after a series of uncharacteristic mistakes against the fiery Reid and the steely Maguire.
Korda, who triumphed in Tokyo a month ago, bladed a pitch from a fairway bunker on the par-4 fourth out of bounds, chunked an approach shot on the par-4 seventh and had an uphill chip from the fringe on the par-4 ninth only make it halfway to the hole before hitting reverse.
With Korda struggling, her teammates picked up the slack. Ernst and Kang turned a one-hole deficit against Georgia Hall and Madelene Sagstrom into a one-hole lead after wins on the 13th and 14th and held on the rest of the way. It was the only match of the morning that reached the 18th green a day after seven of the eight matches made it to the final hole.
Two of the afternoon matches made it to 18, with Reid’s birdie giving Europe a little bit of wiggle room heading into singles. As defending champion, the Europeans need just five points on Monday to retain the Cup while the Americans need 7 1/2 to win for the 11th time in 17 meetings.