Carlota Ciganda is embarking on her second full season as a pro

While Pamplona is best known for the running of the bulls, there’s an elegant golfer from that famous Spanish city who is fast charging to the top of the sport.

After just one year in the professional ranks the 22-year-old Carlota Ciganda is already Europe’s No 1 although she is not overly confident of her chances this week in the ISPS Handa NZ Women’s Open hosted by Christchurch.

Ciganda is part of the strongest ever women’s golf field assembled in this country, buoyed by her success last year.

She had a glittering amateur career, winning the British Amateur and European championship twice before representing her country twice at the Espirito Santo world championship.

Ciganda moved to USA where she was a standout for Arizona State University, becoming the first player to win the Pac-10 Championships back-to-back in 2009 and 2010.

She played her first European Tour event when she was 14 and was third in the qualifying school for the Ladies European Tour.

Her rookie season last year included wins at the Deloitte Open and China Open, among 10 top-10 finishes from 17 start. She only once failed to collect a cheque, becoming the first player since Laura Davies in 1985 to win the ISPS Handa Order of Merit and and Rolex Rookie of the Year award.

“I just like to play golf, to enjoy myself and play as well as I can,” Ciganda said. “It is not pressure for me to be No 1. Last year I did not have much expectation because it was my first year. I was enjoying my time with friends and my caddy who is a good friend.

“I played very good every week. I was top 10 every week almost. It was great.”

She plans to mix some play on both sides of the Atlantic this year and while she ultimately wants to succeed against the best, her short term goal is to make the Solheim Cup team.

“I want to keep having fun this year. I am going to play on the LPGA also this year – half and half. I will go there in March and April because there are not many tournaments in Europe then.

“Then I would love to go to the Solheim Cup team. I am going to work hard to make that.

“I like the European Tour because we are like a big family. It is a very good atmosphere. But I am looking to go to the States to play against the best players in the world, on the best courses.

“I have time. I am in no rush. I love Spain and my family. My coach is in Spain too.”

She finished 12th in the NZ Open at Pegasus last year and is a fan of the Clearwater course.

“The course is in good condition and it is looking very good – good greens, good fairways. I am looking forward to it.

“You need a good strategy because it is not easy with the wind. There are a few tricky holes in the front and back nine. It is the same for everyone.”

She is uncertain of her chances in just her second tournament back after a long break.

“I had a big siesta in December and January because I was mentally tired. It is going to be hard to win because there are a lot of good players and I don’t see my game at 100 per cent yet.

“I need to practice more and play more. I will be better next week but this week I will do my best.”

Ciganda is Europe’s top ranked player in the field that includes three of the four previous winners of the tournament in Gwladys Nocera, Laura Davies and Kristie Smith.

Also in the field are major winners Anna Nordqvist and Sophie Gustafson, both of Sweden along with world No.19 Angela Stanford and 32 LPGA Tour Players.

Tickets available at the gate.