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S. Korea eliminates U.S. in International Crown

AP, Kyodo

The top-seeded United States left the inaugural International Crown without a trophy and with no shortage of reasons for its surprisingly early exit.

Inbee Park and Ryu So-yeon both birdied the first playoff hole Saturday as South Korea eliminated the Americans and earned a wild-card berth in the final round of the star-crossed event.

The Koreans will join Spain, Thailand, Japan and Sweden on Sunday in a duel for title.

And the United States?

Well, none of the four players expressed any desire to stick around to see who wins it all.

“Who would we root for if not ourselves?” Christie Kerr said.

“I think we’re still kind of just realizing we’re not playing,” teammate Paula Creamer said.

In the wake of their stunning defeat, the Americans questioned the format of a tournament, lamented their poor start Thursday and agonized over a shot on the extra hole that went from near-perfect to disastrous.

“Just have to take this as a learning experience,” Kerr said.

After Kerr and Lexi Thompson beat sisters Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn 3 and 2, Thailand’s Pornanong Phatlum and Onnarin Sattayabanphot edged the team of Creamer and Stacy Lewis 1-up to leave the U.S. in third place in Pool A.

South Korea, the third-place finisher in Pool B, called upon Park and Ryu to face Kerr and Thompson in a wild-card playoff on the par-5 16th hole.

Thompson’s second shot hit the fringe of the green, sat for an instant and then rolled back down a hill. She attempted an uphill putt, which barely made it to the top of the hill.

Thompson subsequently missed a 10-footer, and the other three players made birdies. According to the unique wild-card format, that eliminated the U.S.

If Thompson’s approach stuck on the fringe, the U.S. probably would have been celebrating. Instead . . .

“We’re not going to let her think about that,” Lewis said.

“She hit two great golf shots there and did exactly as she was supposed to do,” Lewis added.

Spain won Pool A with seven points, earning the tiebreaker over Thailand, which also had seven points. The U.S. had six points and Taiwan finished with four.

Japan split with South Korea on Saturday to emerge atop Pool B with eight points, and Sweden swept Australia to finish with seven points. South Korea had six points and the Aussies had three.

Ai Miyazato and partner Sakura Yokomine beat Choi Na-yeon and Kim In-kyung 3-and-2, while teammates Mika Miyazato and Mamiko Higa lost 4-and-3 to Park and Ryu.

“There was a lot of pressure on us. The eagle that Sakura got on No. 10 was really big,” said Ai Miyazato.

“Until now, we have been playing in a relaxed way, but it will definitely get more difficult mentally on the final day. We want to get lots of rest and be prepared.”