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Golf star Lorena Ochoa swings strong in face of Mexico drug war

Lorena Ochoa teed off in her first PGA Tour event since retiring nearly a year ago, her star power lending a needed boost to sports events in violence-wracked Mexico.

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Sports stars fight bad press from drug war

And just like Ochoa at Mayakoba, celebrities will do their part to promote the Pan Am Games and calm fears, says Hector Lopez Zatarain, a sports marketing consultant working for the Pan Am Games.

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Guadalajara’s own Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez of Manchester United and Formula 1 champion Sergio Perez are on the list to campaign for the event. Ochoa, another Guadalajara native, will publicize her upcoming golf tournament, according to Mr. Lopez Zatarain. “They will help to promote the city as a safe city, as a nice place to visit,” he says.

The FIFA Under 17 World Cup will also hold games in Guadalajara, playing in June and July in seven Mexican cities, including troubled Morelia and Monterrey.

Killings during tennis' Mexico Open fuel concerns

All the preparation in the world, however, may do little to calm organizers’ jitters, which were on full display this week at the Mexican Open in Acapulco, the largest tournament in Latin America. The men’s Association of Tennis Professionals, or ATP, warned against traveling outside hotels and players were advised to leave the resort city right after being eliminated, The Associated Press reported.

"We [players] are a bit scared about this and we're trying to decide what to do," said Argentine athlete David Nalbandian.

This past weekend 12 taxi drivers and passengers were gunned down in Acapulco, local media said, just before the tournament opened Monday. Last month 15 headless bodies were scattered outside a mall.

Acapulco spring break reservations have since plummeted to 1,000, down from 9,000 last year, the Mexican daily El Universal reported, saying that other violent beach towns in Sinaloa and Sonora have taken major hits this year.

Calmer resorts like Cancún have not yet witnessed a drop in tourism, says Almaguer, the tourism promoter. And many hope that Ochoa's noted swing at the pro-am portion of the Mayakoba Golf Classic from Feb. 23-27 will help keep tourism strong.

"What she's done for golf in Mexico could never be repeated," golfing great Greg Norman said Tuesday before the tournament began. "She's been a great ambassador for the game of golf. She's represented her country as well as I've seen anybody represent their country."

Tournament Director Larson Segerdahl agreed. "Not only does she represent the very best in the game of golf but she represents the very best of Mexico," he said in a statement.

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