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Sunday, July 27, 2014

After the Shockwaves Subside

You could hear the surprise in the broadcast crew's voices. Japan was the top point winner in pool play! The top seeds coming in, the USA and the Republic of Korea, were going to the wildcard match! The #1 seed was out of the tournament!

Inbee Park

They sent Juli Inkster down to interview the US team after they failed to qualify for the final day. (Remember, Jules is the US captain at the next Ryder Cup. She was probably the only person with a mic they would have talked to.) Even before she got there, the camera and sound crew caught Cristie Kerr telling Lexi Thompson that the problem was their play on the first day. (Clearly Lexi felt she had lost it for the team when she didn't make a birdie on the first playoff hole.) And Cristie reiterated that to Juli during the interview -- which basically was just Juli and Cristie since the rest of the team seemed to be in shock.

I'll come back to that interview in a moment. First, here are the 10 singles matches for today's final round:

PAIRINGS GUIDE | DAY 4 - SUNDAY 27, 2014
Match 1 | Day 4 | 11:30 a.m.
Match 2 | Day 4 | 11:40 a.m.
Match 3 | Day 4 | 11:50 a.m.
Match 4 | Day 4 | 12:00 p.m.
Match 5 | Day 4 | 12:10 p.m.
Match 6 | Day 4 | 12:20 p.m.
Match 7 | Day 4 | 12:30 p.m.
Match 8 | Day 4 | 12:40 p.m.
Match 9 | Day 4 | 12:50 p.m.
Match 10 | Day 4 | 1:00 p.m.

Cristie had some thoughts about the format that I found interesting and wanted to comment on.

She noted that the format of the first three days was extremely hard. I'm sure that came as a shock to most of the ladies. On the surface, pool play appears to be easier since the whole "one and done" aspect of match play is mitigated somewhat. Most players hate the idea of coming to the first day of a tournament and getting bounced the same day. (As do the TV networks.) With pool play -- especially team pool play -- I think most players believe that they can beat the odds and make things work.

Of course, no matter what the players believe, on Saturday night only 5 of the 8 teams survive. Three teams will be gone, regardless of how well they play; that's the rules. And with 4-player teams, you can't "hide" a player (or players) the way you can during a Solheim or Ryder Cup. In addition, the choice to use only 4-ball matches virtually guaranteed that scores would be low. (Remember the Korea-Sweden match on Friday where the losing team shot 62?)

I think that was a rude awakening for all of the teams, not just the USA. The format was designed for drama... and it delivered.

Cristie also mentioned that they might want to change the playoff format to a 3-hole aggregate. The GC crew noted afterward that daylight might become a problem if they did, but I think that was just Cristie's disappointment talking. Team USA didn't expect to be in a playoff in the first place, and players always believe that if they just had a little more opportunity...

Here are the big lessons from the first International Crown, folks: You can't expect to go scoreless in any round and still make the finals. There are 4 points available each day; if you only average 2 points a day, don't expect better than a chance in the wildcard playoff. Every single point counts. Eight teams walk in; only five walk out. Seeding means nothing.

To put it bluntly, YOU CAN'T HIDE IN THIS FORMAT.

I don't know how the final day matches will play out. I suspect the Japan-Korea rivalry will again be a driving force, even though only one match -- Yokomine VS Ryu -- is a direct confrontation. Still, I have no doubt that Japan's 2-point lead over Korea will be a big deal to both teams as they compete today. And that passion may make it tougher for the other three teams -- Thailand, Spain, and Sweden -- to make up enough ground to catch Japan. Until the final putt is sunk, I can't say how well this last round format works.

But overall, I think the first three rounds of the International Crown have proven to be everything the LPGA hoped. The World Cup format created one of the toughest competitions on any tour, male or female, and the "both balls count" playoff format kept the pressure on. This is a fun tournament for fans to watch.

And with a little luck, the rest of the tours -- and the Olympic committee -- are paying attention.

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