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S. Korea goes for 2nd straight title at LPGA match play competition

Ko Jin-young of South Korea watches her tee shot at the third hole during the third round of the JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles last Saturday. (Getty Images)
Ko Jin-young of South Korea watches her tee shot at the third hole during the third round of the JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles last Saturday. (Getty Images)

Led by a resurgent star, South Korea will chase its second consecutive title at an LPGA team match play competition this week in San Francisco.

South Korea will be the No. 2 seed at the eight-country International Crown, scheduled to tee off Thursday at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.

This is the fourth edition of the International Crown. The $2 million biennial competition began in 2014, with Spain being crowned the inaugural champion. The United States won the next event in 2016, and South Korea captured its first International Crown title on home soil two years later.

The 2020 event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The field of eight countries was determined by the combined world ranking positions of the top four players from each country as of Nov. 21, 2022. Those countries' seedings and their four qualified players were set based on the world rankings as of April 3 this year.

South Korea was originally set to roll out the quartet of Ko Jin-young (No. 3), Kim Hyo-joo (No. 9), Chun In-gee (No. 11) and Park Min-ji (No. 21).

However, Park, the only Korea LPGA player in the group, pulled out because of a scheduling conflict on the domestic tour.

Choi Hye-jin, a second-year LPGA player at No. 25 and the next-highest South Korean on the world rankings, replaced Park. This will be Choi's first International Crown appearance.

Ko, Kim and Chun have combined for 23 LPGA wins, including six majors. Chun is the only South Korean player this year with prior International Crown experience, having won the 2018 event and finished second in 2016.

Ko, former world No. 1 now sitting behind Nelly Korda of the United States and Lydia Ko of New Zealand, has bounced back nicely this year after a trying second half of 2022.

In a four-tournament stretch from August to November last year, Ko missed three cuts and withdrew from another, while struggling with a nagging wrist injury. She also ceded her top spot in the world rankings.

It has been a different story in 2023. Ko won her second start of this season, the HSBC Women's World Championship in March, and has so far recorded four top-10 finishes in six tournaments. Ko leads the tour in greens in regulation with 78.3 percent, and is second behind Lilia Vu of the United States in scoring average at 68.750 strokes per round. Only Korda has posted more top-10 finishes this season with five.

Kim Hyo-joo has been solid, with three top-10s in six starts this year. Chun, on the other hand, hasn't yet found the form that saw her win a major and post two runner-up finishes in 2022. A back injury forced Chun to withdraw from the DIO Implant LA Open at the end of March, and she missed the cut at the Lotte Championship two weeks later.

In an encouraging sign, though, Chun shot a six-under 66 in the second round of the season's first major tournament, the Chevron Championship, on April 21, for her lowest round of the season. It came on the heels of a six-over 78 that put her in danger of missing the cut.

Choi, a former KLPGA star who finished runner-up in the LPGA Rookie of the Year race in 2022, is still looking for her maiden victory on the US circuit. She has been inside the top 20 in five out of her seven tournaments this year.

The US is the top seed, by virtue of having the lowest total of ranking positions for its four players. It has 34 points from Korda (No. 2), Thompson (No. 6), Vu (No. 12) and Danielle Kang (No. 14). They have 27 combined LPGA titles, including four majors.

The six other competing nations are Japan, Sweden, England, Thailand, Australia and China.

The field will feature major champions, such as Yuka Saso of Japan, Anna Nordqvist of Sweden, Patty Tavatanakit of Thailand and Minjee Lee of Australia.

South Korea is in Pool B with Japan, Thailand and Australia. Pool A teams are the US, Sweden, England and China.

The first three days of the International Crown will feature four-ball competition, in which each player in a team plays her own ball and the better score of the two becomes that duo's score on the given hole.

The top two from each pool will advance to the semifinals Sunday. A match win is worth one point, and a tie is good for a half point.

The two semifinal matches will be played Sunday morning, with each consisting of two singles matches and one foursome match, in which each team plays one ball and players take turns hitting shots.

The championship final will be Sunday afternoon, along with a third-place match. They will both have the same format as the semifinals. (Yonhap)

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