Reid steals show as U.S. rallies

Writing from Gurnee, Illinois

Friday, July 22, 2016

One-on-two generally doesn’t work.

Statistically, it didn’t work for England’s Mel Reid on Friday at the Merit Club. Forced to play alone when teammate Charley Hull took ill, Reid lost 1 up to Japan’s Haru Nomura and Mika Miyazato.

But emotionally, dramatically, and every other way, Reid was the winner. She was saluted by the gallery, lauded by teammates Holly Clyburn and Jodi Ewart Shadoff – whose tie with Ai Suzuki and Ayaka Watanabe gained England a critical point – and essentially was the queen of the second day’s play in the 2nd International Crown.

Reid was a one-woman team with Hull sidelined, and more than hung in there. Standing 2 down after all holes, she won the par-4 12th hole with a birdie, then eagled the par-4 13th by holing out a three-quarter wedge from 70 yards, squaring the match. That brought forth a roar from a gallery that was already rooting for her.

Then she birdied the par-3 14th to match Miyazato’s bird, and a thought crept into her head.

“Hey, I’ve got a chance here,” Reid thought.

She knew the holes were running out, and some were in her favor.

“I knew they were going to birdie (par-5) 16. They finished birdie-birdie-birdie. I finished birdie-par-birdie. There’s nothing you can really do. If you lose to a birdie, it’s fine.”

Hull said in a statement she was “gutted” from not being able to play. Her asthma kicked up beginning Thursday night after dinner, and, combined with a fever, caught her hard upon waking up Friday.

“I really wanted to join my partner Mel at some point during the match, but at the advice of the medical team, the best thing to do was to rest and get healthy for my team for tomorrow,” Hull said.

England leads Group A with five points to the four each of Thailand and Japan, and the three of the United States.

The Americans got on the board solidly, making up for Thursday’s shutout. Cristie Kerr and Leix Thompson overwhelmed Ariya Jutanugarn and Pornanong Phatlum, winning 4 and 3 on the strength of playing 13-under best-ball golf in 15 holes. They birdied every hole except the third and 13th, a phenomenal performance even when the Merit Club was set up for low scores. The ball still had to reach the green and the putts on greens that are smooth but hardly tabletop flat had to find the cup. Time after time, Kerr or Thompson did just that.

The U.S. was on the verge of a sweep until Moriya Jutanugarn and Porani Chutichai whittled away a two-hole deficit to draw with Americans Stacy Lewis and Gerina Piller. Chutichai’s birdie putt on the 17th made the difference. Lewis had a good look at birdie at the last, but edged the cup after lipping out a chip shot on the 17th.

“With the law of averages, they have to start going in eventually,” Lewis said.

Maybe, maybe not. But the Americans stayed with the same pairings as Thursday, when there were blanked by Thailand, drawing on their successful use at last year’s Solheim Cup as the reason.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Piller, invoking Bert Lance.

The birdie binge of Kerr and Thompson didn’t translate to a big lead. They didn’t go 2-up until the sixth hole, when both birdied the par 4 while Phatlum and Ariya Jutanugarn failed to do so. Their win, closed out by Thompson’s 25-foot birdie from the fringe on the par-4 15th, was huge.

“I think we need to at least make three points (on Saturday) to guarantee a playoff spot or something like that, and we know what we have to do,” Kerr said. “It’s a hard format, and when you make it to Sunday, there’s a lot more points available in the singles.

“That’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to make it to Sunday.”

That’s what the U.S. quartet didn’t do in the inaugural playing two years ago. And if the U.S. earns three points against Japan on Saturday for a total of six, they would leap over Japan, which would have five points, but could end up in third and into the sudden-death playoff, if England and Thailand split. Only a Saturday sweep by the U.S., moving them to seven points, guarantees them at least second place and a berth in Sunday’s finals.

In Group B, Taiwan split with South Korea and continues to lead with six points to Korea’s four. Australia and China are tied for third with three points each. The Australian duo of Minjee Lee and Su Oh won the last hole, via Lee’s birdie, to halve their match with China’s Shanshan Feng and Xi Yu Lin, assuring them of a 3-1 margin in points after Karrie Webb and Rebecca Artis beat Jing Yan and Simin Feng, who is not related to Shanshan Feng.

Around the Crown

Saturday’s play begins at 10:30 a.m., with the playoff between the two third-place teams for the final spot in Sunday’s singles coming immediately after the last match ends. ... Sunday’s singles start at 11 a.m. ... Galleries jumped on Friday, and while no figure was announced, the total was probably close to 4,000. One Merit Club official said the total in South Korea two years from now could exceed 100,000 for the week, given the popularity of the Korean players in their homeland and the chance to win an international competition on home turf. 

Tim Cronin

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