Final four set at International Crown, Americans only team with chance to win event for second time
SAN FRANCISCO — Pool play is now over at the Hanwha LifePlus International Crown. Those who swam moved on to the semifinals, while multiple favorites surprisingly sank and are heading home. The United States, Sweden, Thailand and Australia advanced for an opportunity to win the first International Crown in five years.
“Another day to represent our country," World No. 1 Nelly Korda said about her American squad. "That's all we could hope for, and hopefully we can get a W and make it to the afternoon round for the championship.”
The teams in the semifinals bracket were mostly set at the start of the day Saturday. The only spot up for grabs was the second spot in Pool A, with Team USA holding a two-point edge over China. Earning 1.5 points against Sweden would have made the Americans the pool's top seed. But, instead, they ended up with just a half point, keeping them alive in their bid to win on home soil.
Two of the previous three International Crowns were won by the home team, with South Korea taking 2018 in Incheon and the U.S. emerging victorious at the Merit Club in Illinois in 2016. After a critical sweep of England on Friday, the Americans earned the half-point against Sweden to secure the second spot out of the pool. China applied the pressure until late in the afternoon, coming away with one point against England as both matches got to at least the 17th.
“I had no idea," Korda said. "I was just watching. There are not that many leaderboards out here. All we could worry about was our own match and that's what we did.”
The United States is the only country remaining with an opportunity to be the first to win the tournament twice.
Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Hedwall completed their third victory of the week earning Sweden the top seed. Their steady-handed performances fueled a 5.5-point week, with Madelene Sagstrom and Maja Stark's tie with Americans Lexi Thompson and Danielle Kang Saturday coming as the only half-point the team lost all week.
"We knew we could do this," Sagstrom said. "It's just more about getting to this point, getting the opportunity. Everyone has played super solid, so just awesome to be in this position. Ready to go tomorrow."
Sweden will take on Australia Sunday morning. The Aussies lost a head-to-head matchup with Thailand for the top seed of Pool B, the only match of any consequence from the group during the third day.
Thailand's sweep of Australia earned it six points this week. They're the only team to win every match of pool play. Sisters Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn’s third victory of the week, a 3-and-2 win, delivered the top seed to Thailand. Patty Tavatanakit and Atthaya Thitikul’s teamwork extended through the press conference as the former World No. 1, Thitikul, held the microphone while the 2021 ANA Inspiration champion, Tavatanakit, discussed her team's weekend prospects.
“[We have] good vibes,” Tavatanakit said. “We all know how to play golf. It's match play; at the end of the day, anything can happen. We're just going to give it our best, and hopefully we bring home the trophy.”
Those vibes continue off the course as Thailand spends time together away from Harding Park. Countrywoman Wichanee Meechai, a close friend of the Thai team, flew in Thursday to watch her compatriots. They've been ordering Thai food and hanging out in the evening. The relaxed time together powers a potentially notable moment for the continually emerging Thai golf.
“If they could win this tournament, I think it's going to be like a lot of sponsors will look at more at the lady’s golf in Thai,” Meechai said.
While Ariya Jutanugarn signaled they needed to figure out what they'd eat Saturday night, it's clearly fueled successful performances for the team.
Australia paid off its confidence from the start of the week, with Sarah Kemp posing that Australia should be one of the favorites in their pre-tournament press conference. Even with two losses to Thailand Sunday, they’re onto the semifinals.
“I've been playing alongside a major champion in World No. 14 the last three days,” Kemp said of Hannah Green. “So that's pretty comfortable for me. And Minjee [Lee] is a major champion too, and I think six in the world. So we're really comfortable, and with those statistics there, I felt like we were kind of one of the favorites.”
Thailand (6) will face the United States (1), while Australia (7) will take on Sweden (4). Both teams from Pool B would be the lowest seed to win in event history. Spain, in 2014, won as a five seed.
South Korea (2) and Japan (3) are the first two and three seeds not to reach the weekend since the tournament's creation in 2014. Yes, Sundays used to feature five teams before the updated Sunday format, but that doesn't take away any of the disappointment for the defending champions or Japan. They went head-to-head Saturday for the ceremonial spot of third place in the pool, with South Korea winning both matches 3 and 1 and 3 and 2, respectively.
“I'm very disappointed,” Nasa Hataoka said through a translator. “And this week, we didn't get any points. So yeah, obviously, I wanted to play Sunday. A little disappointed, but it is what it is.”
Rather than a day of singles matches, Sunday will have semifinals, then finals. The first tee times of the semifinals start at 7:10 a.m. local, with two singles matches and an alternate shot. The change in format away from fourball makes past head-to-head matchups this week less relevant going into the semifinals.
"It's a completely different format, so that's the only way," Korda said. "That's the only way it [a matchup with Sweden] could be different. We're playing the same girls. It's just a different format."