When the LPGA’s first International Crown began Thursday in Owings Mills, most figured that the top-seeded U.S. would be fighting come Sunday for what Paula Creamer thought was the “coolest trophy."
Creamer and her three American teammates will likely not even be around to watch, let alone play at Caves Valley, because their rollercoaster performance ended Saturday night with a confusing sudden-death defeat to South Korea.
After the two reigning powers in women’s golf finished third in their respective pools, the U.S. was knocked out on the first playoff hole because of a quirky rule that turned what had been a fourball event into an aggregate score.
The top two seeds in each pool along with South Korea advanced to singles.
“It is disappointing, especially to come down to a playoff and have it come down to one hole and total score,” said Kerr, who had won her fourball match earlier with Lexi Thompson, 3 and 2, over sisters Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand.
The playoff – not quite as dramatic or as long as the five-hole playoff on the same course in the 2002 U.S. Senior Open won by journeyman Don Pooley over legend Tom Watson – was between four players ranked in the top 10 in the world.
Both of the South Koreans – third-ranked Inbee Park and ninth-ranked So Yeon Ryu – made birdie, as did 10th-ranked Kerr for the U.S. But after being unlucky with her approach to the par-5 16th, the fifth-ranked Thompson settled for par after having to putt when her ball rolled off the green and into a divot.
“I just got an unfortunate break on the playoff hole, but I hit two great shots,” Thompson said.
While the Americans knew they had lost, several fans following the playoff started to run off to the next playoff hole, thinking the two teams halved No. 16 with birdies. But a rule was specifically added for this first-time event that made the second score for each team a tiebreaker.
“I know the fans out there didn’t understand what was going on,” said Stacy Lewis, who had missed a 20-footer on the 18th hole against Thailand to lose 1-up with Creamer and force the playoff against South Korea. “The fans were walking to 17 and So Yeon is over there making her putt.”
Ryu’s tap-in 2-footer for birdie ended three days of up-and-down golf for the Americans, who began the event by getting swept by Taiwan, coming back to sweep Spain and then getting knocked out when Spain rallied Saturday to sweep Taiwan.
Thailand and Spain finished tied for first in Pool A, with Japan on top in Pool B. Sweden also advanced out of Pool B. Taiwan and Australia will join the U.S. on the sidelines Sunday.
The South Koreans, seeded second, knew how close they came to losing.
“Honestly, it’s always hard to beat the Americans, especially in the United States,” Ryu said. “A lot of American fans are in here. Lexi is a long hitter and I thought that she could easily make it in two [shots on the green] on the par-5. So I was obviously pretty scared before I was going to the playoff.”
Said Park: “It was very unfortunate we had to play against the United States because that was something that nobody really expected for us to be playing or seeing. I think that it was really tough because they’re great competitors and they had a lot of fans that are coming out and watching them.”
The large crowds that lined the fairways to watch the U.S. play the past few days might be gone Sunday, just as those who watched Tiger Woods play at Congressional last month seemed to find something else to do when he failed to make the cut in the Quicken Loans National.
“I thought it was great to have all the fans out and all,” Lewis said. “It was really cool the way they pulled us through there and to hear the roars from what they were doing ahead of us, and they were really trying to get behind us.”
Said Creamer: “The fans today were great. It felt like a Solheim Cup in a sense, with the people screaming ‘USA.’ They were so much more into the last two days. I think it was just a learning experience for them on Thursday as well.”
Asked if she ever thought that the U.S. would fail to advance to the singles, Lewis still seemed a bit in shock.
“Honestly the first time I thought about that was on the cart ride up into the media center [for the interview after the playoff],” she said. “I never thought we wouldn’t be playing tomorrow. It never even crossed my mind. But I don’t think we felt the pressure by any means.”
While the five teams left will try to raise the silver trophy with the four crowns, the four Americans will likely disperse and get ready for their next LPGA event. Kerr said she was going home to take care of her infant son “and change diapers,” though her teammates couldn’t say what they will be doing Sunday.
“I think we’re still kind of realizing we’re not playing,” Creamer said.
As confusing as the ending was Saturday night, the outcome was clear.
The top seed is gone, its first International Crown far from the success of the event itself.
Best performance (team): Spain. After getting swept by the United States on Friday, Spain put on two impressive performances against Taiwan to secure Pool A's top seed. Carlota Ciganda and Azahara Munoz cruised to a 6 and 5 win over Yani Tseng and Phoebe Yao. Two down with seven holes to play, Belen Mozo and Beatriz Recari came back to beat Candie Kung and Teresa Lu, 1-up, when Mozo ran in a 30-footer on the 18th green.
Best performance (individual): Belen Mozo. Saving her best for last, Mozo holed out from a bunker for eagle on the par-5 16th, then made her long birdie putt on 18, one of five birdies Saturday. . Had Taiwan won the match, Lu would have been in contention. She started her round with an eagle on the par-4 opening hole and a birdie, finishing with seven birdies and an eagle.
Worst performance (team): Australia. It was the second downer of a day for the team from Down Under. After watching a 6-up lead with seven holes to play Friday disintegrate into a disappointing tie with Japan, Katherine Kirk and Lindsey Wright were blown out by Sweden's Pernilla Lindberg and Mikaela Parmlid, 7 and 5. The team of Hall of Famer Karrie Webb and 18-year-old amateur Minjee Lee lost to Caroline Hedwall and Anna Nordqvist, 5 and 3.
Worst performance (individual): Kirk, who played a big role in her team's collapse Friday, didn't come out of her funk. She didn't make one birdie and had four bogies in what turned out to be the tournament's most one-sided defeats. Tseng, the former No. 1 player in the world whose ranking has slid to No. 53 in the past two years, continued to struggle, with only one birdie to go along with three bogeys and a double bogey.
Shot of the day: While Lu's shot from the fairway on the first hole for eagle against Spain was impressive, Mozo's hole out from the sand on the par-5 16th was much more dramatic and important in terms of the match's outcome.
Hardest hole: No. 9. While three golfers birdied this 428-yard par-4, seven others posted bogies. Tseng's double bogey came on the ninth hole. .
Quote of the day: The top-seeded United States was bounced from the tournament after losing in a wild-card playoff hole to second-seeded South Korea. After the playoff, each of the four U.S. golfers was asked whether they would attend Sunday's final round. Christie Kerr was very adamant in her response: "I got an 8-month-old baby. I'm going to take care of him and change some diapers."
Compiled by Aaron Dodson, Cody Goodwin and Don Markus.