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Len Ziehm On Golf

Team USA needs a big day vs. Japan to survive in International Crown

Team USA remained in last place in four-team Pool B at the UL International Crown on Friday, but there’s still hope for the home team in this global team event that determines its champion on Sunday.

Thursday’s first round of matches was a disaster, the U.S. going 0-2 against England. Friday’s second round showing against Thailand was much better. The American team of Lexi Thompson and Cristie Kerr had no trouble with Ariya Jutanugarn and Porani Chutichai, winning 4 and 3 to secure the first U.S. points of the competition.

The other U.S. team, Stacy Lewis and Gerina Piller, played well, too. They took the lead on the third hole and never trailed against Pornanong Phatlum and Jutanugarn’s sister Moriya, but Phatlum’s long birdie putt on the 17th green enabled Thailand to halve the match.

“We had a rough day, and we just got beat,’’ Thompson said of the bad start on Thursday. “We just had to come back with a positive attitude and focus on good things.’’

With two points awarded for a win and one from a tie, the U.S. has three points going in Saturday’s matches. England leads the pool with five and Thailand and Japan have four each. In the final round of best ball competition the U.S. faces Japan and England takes on Thailand.

“We knew we couldn’t lose today,’’ said Kerr, “and getting three out of four points was huge. We did what we had to do.’’

“We’ve still got some work to do tomorrow, but as a team we’re moving in the right direction,’’ said Lewis. “We’ve got to get four points, and we’ll be right where we need to be.’’

The top two teams in each pool advance to Sunday’s concluding singles matches and the third place team in each of the two pools will go to a playoff for the fifth and final spot in singles. Team USA lost in the Saturday playoff two years ago when the Crown was played for the first time in Maryland.

Team USA was the top-seeded team in the first Crown and is seeded second to Korea in this one. Korea had its troubles the first two days as well, splitting both of its matches each day. Korea, with its four players all ranked in the top 12 in the world, trails surprising Chinese Taipei by two points in Group A heading into Saturday. Taipei has six points, Korea four and Australia and China three each.

The pairings in Group A for Saturday are Korea vs. Australia and Taipei vs. China.

While the U.S. matches drew the biggest galleries on Friday, the plight of Team England was captivating as well. England didn’t qualify for the first UL International Crown and was handicapped on Friday when Charley Hull couldn’t play.

Hull became ill after leading England’s sweep of the U.S. on Thursday. In a statement released by her team Hull said she sought medical attention after an asthma attack turned into a fever before Friday’s matches. Her absence meant that her partner, Melissa Reid, had to go it alone against the strong Japan team of Haru Nomura and Mika Miyazato.

Reid battled valiantly, taking Nomura and Miyazato to the final hole before the Japan duo could claim a 1-up victory.

“I’m extremely proud of myself,’’ said Reid. “I knew it was going to be difficult playing on my own against two of the best players in the world. For me it turned out a huge positive. To get anywhere near the 18th was going to be a huge achievement, and I’m just really, really pleased I gave the team a huge chance of even a point.’’

While Reid didn’t get the point, her teammates Jodi Ewart Shadoff and Holly Clyburn managed to halve their match with Ai Suzuki and Ayaka Watanabe. The point gained in that one kept England on top of Group B. Hull’s status for Saturday’s matches is uncertain.