Azahara Munoz hasn’t been one to make excuses about her struggling golf game since surgery on her left hand to remove a benign tumour in March.
The Spaniard has, however, battled with confidence as her game has been slow in its return to form.
Following a much-needed week of practice and a mental reset of sorts, Munoz looked every bit like her 2010 LPGA rookie of the year self on Friday – shooting a six-under-par 65 to earn a share of the clubhouse lead at the NW Arkansas Championship with Anna Nordqvist and Brittany Lincicome.
Korean Mi Jung Hur was eight under through 14 holes when play was suspended because of darkness.
Hur birdied her final five holes, hitting all but one green in regulation at the rain-hampered Pinnacle Country Club.
The Australian contingent all completed their opening rounds, Katherine Kirk shooting a four-under-par 67 to be tied ninth, ahead of Minjee Lee (68), Karrie Webb (69), Sarah Jane Smith (72) and Sarah Kemp (77).
For Munoz, the round was her best in her seven tournaments following surgery.
“Last week, I finally said ‘This is it – it’s not going to happen again’ … I know I’m a good golfer so, eventually, it’s going to come. Obviously, it’s going to take a little bit of time, but I know it’s going to come back.”
Friday’s round was delayed twice by strong storms and lightning, and 21 groups were unable to finish.
Lincicome and Nordqvist also shot 65s, and Na Yeon Choi also was six-under after 14 holes. Ryann O’Toole finished with a 66, and Mariajo Uribe and Gerina Piller also were five under.
Top-ranked Inbee Park had a 69, and defending champion and local favourite Stacy Lewis was four under with three holes left.
Munoz birdied three of her first five holes on the back nine to reach six under, nearly reaching seven under when her 35-foot birdie attempt on the par-3 15th lipped out of the hole.
“It felt good, back to normal,” Munoz said.
Lincicome used three sand saves to help propel her to a bogey-free 65, while Nordqvist hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation while also posting a bogey-free round.
Lincicome reached six under following birdies on the seventh and eighth after beginning her round on the back nine, and her 15-foot birdie attempt which would have sent her to seven under on the 9th came up inches short.
“Right when I hit it, I knew it wasn’t enough, especially when it’s on line. It’s kind of a bummer, but just happy to be finally done with the round,” Lincicome said.