Competitive play in the Kraft Nabisco Championship tees off today

Inbee Park to defend Title at 43rd annual event at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. - The 43rd annual Kraft Nabisco Championship, LPGA's first major of the year, begins today at Mission Hills Country Club, with Inbee Park of South Korea trying to be the second player to successfully defend her title.

The 111-player field for the $2 million tournament includes 29 of the top 30 players in the Rolex World Golf Rankings. The only top-30 player missing is Suzann Pettersen of Norway, who withdrew Tuesday, citing an ``aggravated disc'' causing her back pain.

``This is as talented a group of players as you will see on one stage all year,'' tournament director Gabe Codding said. ``And you have all of them chasing Inbee, who set a standard for golf last year that people will be talking about for years and years to come.''

In 2013, Park won the Kraft Nabisco Championship, then the U.S. Women's Open and Wegmans LPGA Championship, the first woman to accomplish that feat in modern women's golf.

``Coming here this year reminds me of very good things,'' Park told reporters Wednesday. ``Obviously the first major of the year, everybody is really excited to play the first major, as I am.''

Park has finished in the top 10 in all four of her tournaments this year, including a second-place finish in the Honda LPGA Thailand. She tied for sixth in last week's Kia Classic in Carlsbad.

``I'm very happy with my game, the way I'm striking the ball,'' Park said. ``My putting is not going in at the moment. Hopefully I can putt like last year. Just makes me realize how good I played last year.''

To third-ranked Stacy Lewis of the United States, ``it's gotten to the point where you're never surprised when you see her name up there.''

``Last week, you didn't see her name all week, all of a sudden she finishes up there in the top 10,'' Lewis said. ``She's making putts. There's nothing flashy about Inbee's game, but she gets it done.''

Park said the course ``is playing a little bit differently than the last few years with the rough not being so long.''

``I think that's going to have the scores go a little bit lower than the last few years,'' said Park, whose 15-under-par 273 total was the lowest since Annika Sorenstam of Sweden had the same total in 2005.

Sorenstam is the only player to win in back-to-back years, 2001 and 2002.  

The field includes two two-time winners on the LPGA Tour this year, Karrie Webb of Australia, the 2000 and 2006 tournament champion, and Anna Nordqvist of Sweden, the Kia Classic Champion.

"Starting this year off as well as I have gives me that little bit of confidence going into this week that if I get things going, hopefully down the stretch Sunday I'll have a shot to win it again,'' Webb said.

The tournament winner will receive $300,000. The champion takes a traditional, celebratory leap into ``Poppie's Pond'' at the 18th green.

Single-day tickets are $35. Admission is free for active military, their spouses and children along with anyone 17 and younger accompanied by a ticketed adult.

The tournament will be televised live on Golf Channel from 9 a.m. to noon and 3 to 6 p.m. today and Friday and 2-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

More information is available on the tournament's website, http://www.kncgolf.com.

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