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Top players compete in LPGA’s Kia Classic

CARLSBAD, CA - MARCH 27: Lydia Ko of New Zealand reacts to her birdie putt on the 18th hole en route to her -19 under victory during the Final Round of the KIA Classic at the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort on March 27, 2016 in Carlsbad, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

CARLSBAD, Calif.  — The $1.8 million Kia Classic began Thursday at the Aviara Golf Club with a field of 144, including each of the top 18 players in the Women’s World Golf Rankings.

The field also includes all the winners of 2016’s official LPGA Tournaments and all the top 100 finishers on the 2016 LPGA Tour money list.

Top-ranked Lydia Ko of New Zealand is the defending champion. The 19- year-old is seeking her first victory of the season. Her best finishes in her four tournament are a pair of ties for eighth, including in last week’s Bank of Hope Founders Cup in Phoenix.

Ko — and the other five past winners — are seeking to become the first two-time winner of the tournament, now in its eighth year.

Four players have ties to the San Diego area, including Tiffany Joh, a graduate of Rancho Bernardo High School who still lives in San Diego. Joh was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma on her scalp in January, underwent surgery and is cancer-free.

“I think over the last few months I’ve really found a value in the relationships that I’ve had,” said Joh, who began her season last week by missing the cut in the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. “It’s interesting, even like those long waits and practice rounds we complain about as players, it’s such a great opportunity to build all these relationships. Like I’ve made so many great friendships out here.

“And I think at a certain point when I was looking back on what the highlights of my life were, they weren’t getting my card or first professional win. They were like the little moments in between where I was able to build all these friendships.”

The other players with ties to the area are Carlsbad resident Beth Allen, Rancho Santa Fe resident I.K. Kim and San Diego resident Ha Na Jang.

Thursday is Women’s Leadership Day, which will begin with a panel discussion, and also include a luncheon, a question and answer session on the driving range with a LPGA Tour professional and a networking happy hour.

Friday is Military Appreciation Day. Active military members with valid identification and their families will receive free admission throughout the tournament.

Saturday is Family Day with activities including a coloring contest, autograph sessions and a junior clinic on the driving range with LPGA players. Registration is required for the clinic and can be made on the tournament’s website, kiaclassic.com.

Children 17 and under accompanied by adults will also receive free admission throughout the tournament.

A yoga session will be held at 8 a.m. Saturday, with all attendees receiving free admission to the day’s play. Registration can be made on the special events page of the tournament’s website, kiaclassic.com.

A sunrise service led by the LPGA chaplain will be held at 7 a.m. Sunday on the 18th green. All participants will receive free admission for the day’s play.

Tickets are priced at $20, $40, $75 and $150.

The tournament is the LPGA’s seventh of the year. There have been six different winners.

Play concludes Sunday. The winner will receive $270,000 and a Kia Cadenza premium sedan.