Golf: Koreans out to stop US surge, win global Crown

SLATER BALTIMORE (AFP) - Americans have seen a women's golf resurgence this season after years of South Korean domination, but four-time major champion Park In-Bee says the Koreans feel pressure to seize command again.

Global bragging rights will be up for grabs this week at the US$1.6 million LPGA International Crown, a match-play showdown of four-woman teams in which the Americans and South Koreans are top seeds and will be challenged by Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Australia, Sweden and Spain.

Americans have won 11 of the first 17 LPGA events this season, including all three majors after Park alone won the first three majors last year.

"The American players are playing very well this year and obviously it hasn't been like the last couple years," Ms Park said. "We definitely feel the pressure and we definitely feel like we have to step it up a little bit this year and try to change some kind of rhythm.

"I think this week is going to be something that can really change it. We are trying to change the pace to our side. Korean players overall this year, it has been probably just struggling with the putting a little bit and we're trying to improve that. Once a couple of players start to win, we'll get a lot of confidence."

US Women's Open winner Michelle Wie and Women's British Open champion Mo Martin were too late to make the US team but US teen star Lexi Thompson, who won her first major at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, is on the American squad.

"I think it was just a matter of time," Ms Thompson said. "There are so many great American players out here. It was only a matter of time before we started winning.

"No trash talking at all. It's not like all American players get together and say, 'All right, one of us has to win this week.'

"It doesn't matter where you're from. What really matters is the talent you bring to the table."

World number one Stacy Lewis brings the US team form that took three wins this year and her second major title at last year's British Women's Open to snap Park's streak. "For so long we were constantly asked, 'Where are you guys?' We're here and we're doing great," Ms Lewis said. "It's great when you see your friends doing well, especially Americans."

Ms Park hopes the South Koreans can take home the crowns come Sunday and start a similar roll on tour. "I think it really has been happening with the American players, a couple players have won, their close friends won," Park said. "Then after that, all the other players really got confidence and they got a team spirit going on."

Ms Park and her teammates have dedicated their efforts to boosting Korean morale in the wake of the ferry tragedy that killed 294 people earlier this year. "It's a tough time back in my country right now. A lot of sad things happened this year, including the ferry disaster," Ms Park said. "A lot of people are in a really little bit of a depression so we really need some kind of hope for my people back in my country.

"I think this week could be a big hope for them. This week could make a difference in my country. So we're going to play our best and try to bring the trophy home."

Having edged the Koreans for the top overall seed and enjoying such strong US play has boosted US morale ahead of the home-soil fight.

"It's definitely a positive," Ms Thompson said. "We're not going to put any extra pressure on ourselves. We know we have to bring our A-game this week. We know we have to play our best to win this thing. We have to make a lot of birdies.

"It's a great thing. I don't think we would rather be any place else," she said. "I like playing under pressure, I like when the spotlight's on me.

"We're here to wear the crown."

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