OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Their bond goes far beyond their designation as teammates, and as a whole they are far more than merely a quartet of players thrown together to represent Spain.
The foursome that won the inaugural International Crown on Sunday have been friends on and off the golf course for years, which goes a long way toward explaining why Spain played so well as the fifth seed against many of the finest women golfers in the world.
Carlota Ciganda breezed to an early victory to set the tone, and Spain won all four of its singles matches in the final round to win the coveted trophy.
“Even though we were maybe the underdogs because of the seedings, I knew deep inside that what you need in a team championship is what we have,” said Belen Mozo, who clinched the title with a 3-and-2 win over Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand. “We have always played together, we have always won together. Coming in, we knew we had that advantage over the other teams.”
Sweden finished second in the tournament that began Thursday with 32 players from eight countries. The top-seeded United States was among three teams eliminated Saturday, leaving five countries and 20 players to compete for the trophy.
Spain began the final round tied for second behind Japan, but Ciganda immediately gave the Spaniards a boost by beating Na Yeon Choi of South Korea 8 and 6. Beatriz Recari followed with a 3-and-2 victory over Mikaela Parmlid of Sweden, and Mozo’s clinching victory set off an impromptu celebration on the 16th hole that began with a jubilant Recari jumping into Mozo’s arms.
Azahara Munoz completed the sweep by beating Ai Miyazato of Japan 2 and 1. Munoz and Ciganda played at this same Caves Valley course in helping Arizona State win the 2009 NCAA women’s championship. Munoz, Ciganda and Recari participated on the last two Solheim Cup champions for Europe.
“We’re so good as a team because we’re used to, since we were younger, playing together,” Munoz said. “I always played with Belen and Carlota. They were always my foursome partners. It just is so special to be on a team with them.”
Points accumulated through Saturday were added to those amassed Sunday. Using the scoring system of two points for a win and one for a tie, the final order was: Spain (15 points), Sweden (11), South Korea (10), Japan (10), Thailand (9), United States (6), Taiwan (4) and Australia (3).
“We are all superstars, we all did our roles and we are all No. 1,” Mozo declared.
Japan entered the final round with a one-point lead but lost three of four matches, its lone win coming when Mika Miyazato beat Onnarin Sattayabanphot of Thailand 3 and 1.
“We all like to play under pressure and we know we can do it. It just didn’t happen,” Ai Miyazato said. “It wasn’t our week, but it was an amazing experience.”
Sweden’s Pernilla Lindberg topped Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand 6 and 5, taking the lead for good at No. 1 and winning at 10, 11 and 12 to pull away. But the Swedes’ bid to win the tournament fizzled when Caroline Hedwall lost to South Korea’s Inbee Park, 4 and 2.
Although Sweden didn’t come home with the trophy, at least one team member left with a fond memory.
“I’ve gotten to show myself on the biggest stage that I’ve been on so far and it feels like I’ve really take advantage of that,” said Lindberg, 28, who was playing in her first match-play event. “It’s been so much fun, just over expectations for everyone.”
Park, meanwhile, rode the momentum generated by Saturday’s wild-card playoff win over the U.S. to breeze past Hedwall. That left South Korea with at least an outside shot of capturing the event.
“It was important to win the first match. It kind of gives everyone hope and some energy to play well,” Park said.
That’s how it worked for Spain. Alas, South Korea could not sustain the momentum.
Not long after Park won, Choi walked off the course after 12 holes in her mismatch against Ciganda, and South Korea’s chances grew even dimmer when I.K. Kim lost to Pornanong Phatlum of Thailand 1 up.
So Yeon Ryu’s 1-up win over Sakura Yokomine of Japan left South Korea at 2-2 for the afternoon.