Local heroine Azahara Muñoz will begin her defence of the Andalucía Costa del Sol Open de España Femenino tomorrow, in the company of the Women’s British Open champion Georgia Hall and rising star Leona Maguire, who is making her professional debut on the Ladies European Tour.
Muñoz is looking for her third consecutive title after wins in 2016 at Aloha Golf Club and 2017 at Real Golf de Guadalmina.
Last year, the Solheim Cup star, who celebrated her 31st birthday on Monday by returning home to her parents in the nearby village of San Pedro Alcantara, finished one stroke ahead of Beth Allen to round off a special week at her home golf club.
This week, La Quinta Golf & Resort sets the scene and Muñoz, Hall and Maguire will get their opening rounds under way from the first tee at 13:05 local time on Thursday.
Allen will tee it up at 12.45 with Nicole Broch Larsen and the recently appointed Solheim Cup vice-captain Dame Laura Davies. Captain Catriona Matthew, meanwhile, will be in the company of Julia Engström and Manon Mollé, who are first and second on the LET Rookie Rankings respectively heading into this week, which concludes the 2018 season on the LET.
Muñoz has had an exceptionally busy stretch and will be playing in her seventh consecutive event this week, before racking up even more air miles next week to travel to a friend’s wedding in Tokyo, but she says that she is feeling fresh and ready to compete.
“This is my last tournament of the year and I’m really happy to play in Spain. I love it here at home and I’m feeling calm,” she said.
“I’m feeling really good. I don’t know if it’s because I was expecting to be so tired. When I finished in Japan, which was my fourth week in a row, I was quite tired, but I don’t know if it’s because it’s the end of the season, or because I’m at home, but I’m actually feeling really good and jetlag hasn’t affected me too much. I think sleeping in my own bed helps. I’m feeling good and no excuses.
“I’m going to have a lot of support, so I’m grateful for that. Obviously I really want to play well and it would be amazing if I could win the tournament. I’m just going to try my best and hopefully at the end of the week it’s enough.”
Muñoz is hoping that this is the week when her hard work with her new putting guru pays off. Gareth Radflewski is also the putting coach of world No.1 Ariya Jutanugarn and Muñoz added: “His main thing is working a lot on speed, which is a complete change from what I used to work on. He keeps it simple and I always thought putting was so complicated.”
Despite the home advantage, La Quinta is not a course that Muñoz knows well.
“I played the back nine yesterday and the front nine today. I played here when I was really little and I was trying to remember, I might have been 10 or 11. Manuel Piñero used to have a summer tournament here. I do remember having a picture with a trophy, but I was so little. My dad says I won it,” she said.
“The course is good. It’s quite tricky and I think the second shots are pretty tight, especially on the back nine. You have to be quite precise but I think I like that. I’m normally pretty good with my irons, so I think that’s a bit of an advantage for me.”
Muñoz will be playing for her sixth LET title and her seventh career title this week and at the same time, looking to boost her chances of securing her fourth appearance in The Solheim Cup. She currently occupies the eighth and final qualification spot on the European Solheim Cup team Rankings, with the next edition of the biennial transatlantic event due to take place at Gleneagles in Scotland in September 2019.