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No. 1 Park headlines LPGA Thailand in season debut

Inbee Park in the 2013 Kraft Nabisco Championship final round
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CROMWELL, CT - JUNE 26: Justin Rose of England hits a fairway shot on the seventh hole during the third round of the Travelers Championship held at TPC River Highlands on June 26, 2010 in Cromwell, Connecticut. (Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images)  - 

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park will make her 2014 debut in a nation still in the throes of political crisis.

Park is the headliner at the Honda LPGA Thailand, which is scheduled to be played about an hour south of Bangkok, the center of protests aimed at toppling the government.

The LPGA has staged events during similar unrest in Thailand in the past without incident. LPGA’s security staff has been closely monitoring protests sharply focused on the political center of Thailand.

“As has been the case in recent years in Thailand, these protests are focused on citizens addressing their concerns with government actions and not focused on foreigners/visitors,” LPGA communications chief Kraig Kann told last month. “Currently, the protests have not ventured from the city of Bangkok, nor have they been anywhere near Pattaya, where the Honda LPGA Thailand is centered.”

Park got her historic year going last season winning this event. She wound up winning six LPGA titles, including the first three major championships of the year, and was the tour’s Rolex Player of the Year and its leading money winner. Her once large lead in the world rankings, however, has been whittled away with No. 2 Suzann Pettersen and No. 3 Stacy Lewis moving within striking distance.

Park leads a field that includes the top nine players in the Rolex world rankings. Pettersen, Lewis and No. 4 Lydia Ko are also scheduled to play. So is No. 7 Karrie Webb, who won last week’s Women’s Australian Open for the fifth time.

American Cristie Kerr, who became a mother this offseason, will make her 2014 debut this week. So will Rolex No. 5 So Yeon Ryu and No. 6 Shanshan Feng.

Thailand's Pornanong Phatlum, who outdueled Stacy Lewis to win the Dubai Ladies Masters two months ago, will be among Thai players in the field. So will Ariya Jutanugarn, 18, who nearly broke through to win in this event a year ago. Jutanugarn is an LET member playing on a sponsor exemption. She teed it up for the first time in seven months last week at the Women’s Australian Open, missing the cut while still struggling to fully trust a surgically repaired right shoulder. She injured herself at the Wegmans LPGA Championship last summer. Jutanugarn lost a two-shot lead to Park at the final hole in heartbreaking fashion in this event a year ago.

Jutanugarn would rebound from that to win an LET event shortly after and rise to No. 15 in the world before her injury. Ariya’s sister, Moriya, was the LPGA’s Rookie of the Year last season and also is in this week’s field.