There was lots of drama Sunday at the LPGA's Kia Classic in Carlsbad, Calif. Not only did Sweden's Anna Nordqvist rally for a one-shot victory, but Lexi Thompson gave the U.S. team a huge boost for this summer's inaugural International Crown at Caves Valley Golf Club.
Thompson's strong finish of four birdies on the last six holes — including one on the final hole — lifted the 19-year-old Floridian to ninth in the Rolex World Rankings. It also helped give the four-player U.S. team the No. 1 seed among the eight countries that will be represented in Owings Mills in late July.
The U.S. team — made up of veterans Stacy Lewis, Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr and Thompson — leapfrogged by the slimmest of margins over a group of South Koreans that had until this year dominated the women's game. The seeding is based on the collective rankings of the four players.
Seeded second since the event was announced last year, the U.S. finished one overall place ahead of a South Korean team when Thompson moved up from 10th and a pair of South Koreans, Na Yeon Choi and I.K. Kim, were each pushed down two places in the rankings, to 11th and 15th respectively.
"It shows a little bit of the resurgence of American golf," said Rich Thomas, tournament director for the International Crown. "That hasn't been the case over the last five, six, maybe even 10 years. Lexi won last year, Paula won this year, Stacy won the British Open last year, there's a lot of great storylines for American women's golf right now."
Despite the South Koreans going winless in the LPGA's first six events of the season, there's still a perception that they will be the team to beat in the four-day event. (The first three days are a round-robin four-ball, or best ball, format followed by a singles competition pitting the leading team from Pool A against the leading team from Pool B.)
"I think going into it, everybody knows that the South Koreans, they're the team to beat," Lewis said Saturday by telephone, before the Americans moved to the top seeding. "The way they've played over the past few years, they're definitely the team to beat.
"But as you've seen in Solheim Cup, it doesn't matter on paper what a team does. The last couple of Solheim Cups, the U.S. should have won, but we didn't. In a way, I think it's going to free us up a little bit. Going into the Solheim Cup, there's so much pressure on us. Just the expectations to win, it's hard."
The U.S. will certainly have an easier draw in Pool A against Australia, Spain and Thailand rather than Pool B, which also includes Japan, Sweden and Chinese Taipei. The Americans will match up the first day against an Australian team led by Hall of Famer Karrie Webb, who has two wins this season at age 39.
Webb is ranked fifth in the world and Nordqvist is 10th after moving up six spots with her second win of the year. Currently ranked third, Lewis believes that the experience that she and her U.S. teammates have in the sport's top women's team competition will help this summer.
"Cristie and Paula have so much experience in Solheim Cup, they get the whole match-play side of things," Lewis said. "I'm excited to have Lexi on the team. I played with her at Solheim Cup. She's a great partner to have in a best-ball format. That's a format that she can really excel in."
Lewis said the excitement is building for the International Crown as it does every other year for the Solheim Cup, which pits the U.S. against Europe.
"I think it's a different kind of excitement," she said. "For the last five or six years, we've had so many Asian players come over and play well. Everyone's asking, 'What about Solheim Cup? Should we change it?' The players don't want to change Solheim Cup. This event will bring all the international players in, which is what everybody's been asking for for a long time. It only makes sense that we're doing it."
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