KAPOLEI - South Korea's Park In-Bee hopes to celebrate a year atop the women's golf world rankings with her first victory of 2014 in the LPGA Lotte Championship this week. "Obviously the time has gone really fast," Park said. "This was the week I took over the number one spot last year, and a lot of things happened since this week last year.
"I've had a lot of wins, and I've experienced a lot of things. A lot of things going well for me in my career. I feel like I'm probably a lot more mature player than I was last year, and I feel more comfortable out here, and being in the number one spot feels a little more comfortable now." Park won six titles in 2013, including the first three major championships of the year.
She's off to a solid start this season, with four top-10s in her first four starts. But she finished 36th in her title defense at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the year, two weeks ago.
Park heads a field of 144 players in the $1.7 million tournament. Defending champion Suzann Pettersen of Norway, ranked second in the world, will miss her third successive event with a back injury. However, there's plenty of star power remaining. Hawaii native Michelle Wie, coming off a runner-up finish to fellow American Lexi Thompson at the Kraft Nabisco, will be looking for a strong performance in her return home.
World number four Lydia Ko of New Zealand will make her second appearance in the tournament, trying to improve on her equal ninth finish from last year. American Lizette Salas returns to Hawaii eager to improve on her career-best second-place finish at Ko Olina last season. Salas posted a stunning 29 on her final nine holes of regulation on Sunday, her fourth-round 62 forcing a playoff with Pettersen. Although she didn't lift the trophy, Salas said she'd taken plenty of positives from that week. "I could have been really down," Salas said. "I did cry about it, but I could have had a pity party for a long time. But I reversed it. It was definitely a motivating thing and I think was a reason I had such a great year."