Defending champ Lee, Wie head LOTTE field

The LPGA Tour will get back to business this week when 144 golfers, including five of this season’s winners, begin competition Thursday at the LOTTE Championship presented by Hershey at the Ko Olina Golf Club in Kapolei, Hawaii.

Among the contestants are defending champion Minjee Lee of Australia, previous titlists Ai Miyazato of Japan (2012) and Michelle Wie (2014), and 80 of the top 100 golfers in the world.

Lexi Thompson, who was penalized four stokes at the ANA Inspiration on April 2 because of a rules gaffe that was phoned in by a television viewer, is not in the field and the LPGA Tour is looking to quickly put that situation behind them.

Up for grabs this week is the $2 million purse, with $300,000 going to this year’s champion after 72 holes of stroke play competition on the 6,383-yard course, which rewards accuracy but surrenders low scores. All five previous editions of this tournament have featured winning scores of 11 under or lower.

Lee shot a bogey-free 64 in the final round last year to finish at 16 under and secure the second win of her career and the first of her two victories in 2016. She held off Katie Burnett and South Korea’s In Gee Chun by a single stroke and became the fifth player in LPGA Tour history to capture multiple victories before her 20th birthday.

The five winners from this season who will play this week are American Brittany Lincicome and Amy Yang, Inbee Park, Mirim Lee and So Yeon Ryu — all of whom are from South Korea.

Hawaiians Wie (who is from Honolulu) and Brittany Yada (from Hilo) will be among the crowd favorites this week.

Wie, ranked No. 75 in the world, is a four-time LPGA winner, with her last victory coming at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open. The former world No. 2 has played in this event every year since 2012 and is the only American to win here.

Yada, 26, has won seven times on the Cactus Tour, an Arizona-based mini-tour, including three times in 2016 and made her LPGA debut last May. A 57th-place finish on the Symetra Tour earned her partial status on the LPGA in 2017.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to play at home, have all my family here watching and friends, and eat good food,” Yada said. “I was really hoping to get into this one as my first one, and I was the last one in, so maybe it was meant to be, I don’t know? So I’ve been very excited and just grateful for the opportunity.”

The LPGA Tour is anxious to put the rules gaffe at the ANA Inspiration in its rearview mirror and continue to build on its exciting brand of golf.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said during an interview with CNN in April that the rules infraction against Thompson and its controversial application were the right decision even if they took away from the sport, the tournament and eventual winner Ryu, who beat Thompson in a playoff.

“I feel horrible for Lexi Thompson, who proved she’s one of the best golfers on the planet and certainly played well enough to earn a trophy,” Whan told CNN. “I feel bad for So Yeon Ryu who won but really didn’t get the experience that most would get in winning a major, and I feel for the rules officials that had to do their job. They followed the rules as written.”

Five different countries have been featured in the winner’s circle in the event’s five-year history.

This week’s LOTTE Championship will mark the eighth of 34 events in the season-long Race to CME Globe. Thanks to five top-10 finishes in her five starts in 2017, including the win at the ANA Inspiration, Ryu is atop the current standings with 1,425 points.