Pool B of the International Crown is most definitely its Pool of Death. By examining each player's position on the Rolex Rankings, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, and my own career ranking system (for those who joined the LPGA since 2005), along with her recent trends, let's see who has the advantage going into Thursday's matches.
The Korea-Australia match should be epic:
TEAM KOREA (2)
Inbee Park: #3 RR (9.54), #5 GSPI (69.32), #5 MH (+4.3%)
So Yeon Ryu: #9 RR (5.81), #7 GSPI (69.51), #8 MH (-3.2%)
Na Yeon Choi: #18 RR (3.73), #13 GSPI (70.19), #7 MH (-4.8%)
In-Kyung Kim: #23 RR (3.23), #27 GSPI (70.83), #12 MH (-4.1%)
TEAM AUSTRALIA (7)
Karrie Webb: #7 RR (6.21), #20 GSPI (70.52), n.r. MH
Minjee Lee: #73 RR (1.52), n.r. GSPI (70.24), n.r. MH
Katherine Kirk: #108 RR (1.05), #59 GSPI (71.45), n.r. MH
Lindsey Wright: #165 RR (.73), #146 GSPI (73.08), n.r. MH
On paper, it looks like big advantage to Korea, but Choi and Kim will need to play very well to compete with Webb and Lee, while Kirk and Wright are coming off top-10 finishes last week, so could give Park and Ryu a run for their money. Webb has cooled off since starting 2014 with 2 LPGA victories during a 6-event top-25 run, but she'll be inspired to partner with her mentee. On the other hand, even though Kim's LPGA scoring average is up (just over 72) and birdies per round rate is down (to 2.75), she won big at the Ladies European Masters by going low.
The Japan-Sweden match is interesting because both teams have many players who are struggling in 2014:
TEAM JAPAN (3)
Sakura Yokomine: #38 RR (2.35), #22 GSPI (70.57), n.r. MH
Mika Miyazato: #51 RR (1.95), #63 GSPI (71.53), #25 MH (-6.9%)
Ai Miyazato: #58 RR (1.81), #76 GSPI (71.81), #10 MH (-5.1%)
Mamiko Higa: #68 RR (1.60), #73 GSPI (71.74), n.r. MH
Obviously my favorite team is in a little bit of trouble heading into this week. Yokomine does have 2 silvers in her last 5 JLPGA starts, but she's languishing at #22 on the JLPGA money list. Last year's money-list winner, Rikako Morita, declined to play and veteran Shiho Oyama turned down the invitation to replace her. Mamiko Higa, last year's Rookie of the Year, did accept, but she's also having a tough 2014 (#28 on the money list, 3 missed cuts in her last 6 starts). Japan's hottest golfer is Misuzu Narita, but she's not on the team. What they do have is a pair of Miyazatos who are suffering through very tough seasons on the LPGA thus far. Ai-sama has shown some signs of life in recent weeks and just missed a top 10 in Ohio, but is still averaging only 2.45 birdies per round and 1.88 putts per green in regulation. Mikan is hardly faring better, with 2.68 bpr and 1.86 ppgir. I do like the strategy of pairing golfers by generation (Yokomine/Ai-sama and Mikan/Higa), and I do like the fact that 3 of the 4 players on the team hail from Okinawa, but Team Japan is going to have a hard time advancing from this pool if they don't figure out the greens at Caves Valley quickly!
TEAM SWEDEN (6)
Anna Nordqvist: #11 RR (4.98), #14 GSPI (70.22), #14 MH (+16.0%)
Caroline Hedwall: #33 RR (2.57), #34 GSPI (71.00), #32 MH (-10.7%)
Pernilla Lindberg: #135 RR (.86), #88 GSPI (72.06), n.r. MH
Mikaela Parmlid: #236 RR (.43), #253 GSPI (74.45), n.r. MH
After Nordqvist, this team has a lot of question marks. Hedwall started the season with 3-straight LPGA top 20s, but hasn't done anything since. Still, she loves match play (witness the Solheim Cup) and remains in my mind the best golfer without an LPGA victory to her name. Lindberg is coming off a top 10 in Ohio and is averaging just over 3 birdies per round, but has no other top 25s in 2014. Parmlid had a great 2013 on the LET, finishing 12th on their Order of Merit, but has only 3 starts this season, with nothing special to speak of in them.
So Nordqvist/Hedwall ought to take it to Mikan/Higa, while Yokomine/Ai-sama ought to crush Lindberg/Parmlid, but if either underdog can pull off a halve or a win, it's going to make it tough on the losing side to advance from pool play.