María Hernández is excited to be back in Slovakia as the defending champion of this week’s Allianz Ladies Slovak Open at Gray Bear Golf Course in Tale.

Hernández, from Pamplona in Spain, scored a one stroke win over Australian Kristie Smith at the inaugural tournament 12 months ago. Her eight under par total saw her claim her maiden professional title in her first year as a member of the Ladies European Tour.

Now she’ll be hoping to capture the title for the second year running, having warmed up with a tie for 15th at the ANZ RACV Ladies Masters and a share of seventh at the European Nations Cup playing alongside Azahara Munoz.

The 25-year-old had a season-best tie for 32nd at the Avnet LPGA Classic earlier this month, so it seems that she is finding her best form at just the right time.

“All I want to do is play my best and see what happens at the end of the week. I’m not trying to win, I’m just trying to play every day the best I can and at the end of the round, we count the score for four days,” Hernández said.

“It’s nice to be back in Slovakia. I was pretty excited to come back because it was a good feeling. I was excited to play the golf course again.

“I think it’s in better shape and especially the greens, they are rolling much better. Hopefully they will be a little faster by Thursday, but I’m sure they’re going to cut it. It’s in great shape and I think it’s better than last year.”

Hernández has great memories from 2010, when she carded rounds of 72, 69, 69 and 70 at the tournament, which was interrupted by thunder storms.  

“The first round, I played really good, I hit the ball well but I couldn’t make a putt,” she said. “On the 15th, the par four, I was on the right and I didn’t make a birdie yet. I told myself, ‘Just hole the chip,’ and suddenly I holed the chip and made my first birdie of the day.”

She recalled how she only played two holes on the first day of the event and had a marathon slog on the second.

“That day I had to play 33 or 34 holes so I went on number 10, holed a long putt, number 11, holed another long putt. I was hitting the ball really, really close and after the second round, my putting started going and I think it was mainly my iron game that was really good.”

Although Hernández is relishing the challenge, she recognises the fierce competition in the field.

England’s Melissa Reid is the favourite at Sky Bet at odds of 7/1, followed by Laura Davies at 8/1, the Netherlands’ Christel Boeljon at 11/1 and Germany’s Caroline Masson at 14/1.

Last year’s runner-up Kristie Smith of Australia may also be a contender and believes that the greens will be the most difficult part of the course.

“The greens are so slopey and a lot of the par fives you can reach in two so you need to be able to take advantage. The greens are quite tricky to read and that’s the difference round here,” Smith said.

Luckily, she feels that her putting is the strongest part of her game at present. “I hit the ball not great last week, but my putting held me in there. Hopefully I can get the ball striking going again.”