Asian stars excited for LPGA team showdown

BALTIMORE (AFP) - After two decades of watching US and European women golfers play for the Solheim Cup, top worldwide rivals have their chance at a team title in the LPGA International Crown.

The inaugural edition of the event will begin Thursday at suburban Baltimore's Caves Valley Golf Club with eight teams of four women seeking global bragging rights and the richest share of US$1.6 million (S$1.9 million) in prize money.

"Every time I watch the Solheim Cup, I always wish I could be there playing," Taiwan's third-ranked Tseng Ya-Ni said. "This is the only time I can play for my country. It means a lot to me."

Five-time major champion and former world No. 1 Tseng will join Teresa Lu, Candie Kung and Phoebe Yao for Taiwan in Group A, which also includes Spain, Thailand and the overall top seed United States.

The Americans feature world No. 1 Stacy Lewis, fifth-ranked teen Lexi Thompson, former world No. 1 Cristie Kerr and veteran Paula Creamer - all ranked in the world top 12.

But the US women are coming off an 18-10 Solheim Cup loss to Europe last year on home soil, the most lopsided rout in the Ryder Cup-style event's history. The International Crown offers a chance at redemption.

"I'm so excited. Really looking forward to being part of a team event. Hopefully, we can win and redeem ourselves," said 19-year-old Thompson, who won her first major title at this year's Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Lewis says the US women welcome another team challenge from beyond Europe.

"It's fun whenever you get those opportunities, especially when we are playing good golf," Lewis said.

"I think we're all going to enjoy the pressure. There is always pressure playing a team event at home. But I think that's where we want to be."

Group B is led by South Korea, which features former world number ones Choi Na-Yeon, the 2012 US Women's Open winner, and Park In-Bee, who won three of her four major titles last year. Ryu So-Yeon and I.K. Kim complete a squad that ranks within the world's top 23.

"We are going to play for our country, which means a lot to us," Choi said. "We will do our best to make some good results and I hope all of the Korean fans are proud of us."

South Korea is joined in Group B by Japan, Sweden and Australia. The Japanese squad includes former world No. 1 Ai Miyazato, while the Aussies are led by former world No. 1 and seven-time major winner Karrie Webb.

Teams will play four-ball matches against group rivals Thursday, Friday and Saturday with the top two in each group and the best third-place team advancing to Sunday's final singles matches, with the trophy going to the nation accumulating the most points over all four days.

Spain's Beatriz Recari, who has played in the Solheim Cup, relishes the chance to play for her homeland instead of all Europe.

"It's your country as opposed to your continent," Recari said. "In Europe it's a lot of small countries. Even though we feel as one as a whole, you still grow up independently. So it's a slight difference, but just as much an honour to be in the Solheim Cup and part of the Spanish team."

The Spaniards have a secret weapon in Azahara Munoz, who helped Arizona State win a US national college golf title at Caves Valley.

"I have great memories. It's actually one of my favourite courses," she said.

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