OCALA, Fla. – Jessica Korda would like to make a habit of winning the LPGA season opener.
Stacy Lewis would like to prevent that habit from forming after losing to Korda in a dramatic finish at last year’s season opener.
Azahara Munoz would like to take the next step to the elite level in the women’s game.
All three are in position after taking a share of the first-round lead Wednesday at the Coates Golf Championship at Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club.
With 6-under-par 66s, they’re one shot ahead of Austin Ernst and Ha Na Jang, and two shots ahead of Lydia Ko and Na Yeon Choi.
Lexi Thompson is three back.
With a cold, blustery morning greeting players for the opening of the LPGA’s 2015 season, the leaders got hot late.
Korda, Lewis and Munoz all barely beat the horn to suspend play with darkness falling at day’s end. Twenty players were still on the course when play was halted. They’ll return at 7:30 a.m. Thursday to finish the first round with the second round planned to begin as scheduled at the same time.
Korda birdied two of the last three holes to move to the top of the leaderboard. Munoz birdied the last two holes to move into a tie for the lead. Lewis joined them making birdies at five of the last six holes.
Korda, 21, is looking to win the LPGA’s season opener for the third time in her career. She won the LPGA’s first event last year, outplaying Lewis at the end to win the Pure Silk Bahamas. Korda also won the Women’s Australian Open when it was the LPGA’s season opener in 2012.
“I honestly don’t know what it is,” Korda said. “I’m just happy to be back. It’s so much fun. It’s like the first day of school.”
Korda is seeking her fourth LPGA title.
Lewis, 29, is seeking to build on her success after sweeping the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year Award, Vare Trophy for low scoring average and money-winning title last year. She was the first American to sweep those honors since Betsy King did it in 1993, and yet Lewis ended 2014 lamenting the chances that got away.
Count last year’s season opener among them.
Korda birdied the last hole in the Bahamas last year to beat Lewis by a shot. Though Lewis won three times last season, she left the year kicking herself over six second-place finishes.
Lewis said those second-place finishes were the difference in what could have been “an unbelievable year.”
So Lewis will be looking to take advantage of more of those opportunities to win when she’s in the hunt this year. She liked the way she got this season started with that strong closing kick Wednesday at Golden Ocala.
“On the back nine, I kind of got more comfortable, just back playing again, and just started hitting golf shots,” Lewis said. “Had a couple birdies that were just tap-ins, which helped, and rolled a few putts in. So, it was a good day.”
Munoz, 27, is looking to add to her lone LPGA title, her Sybase Match Play Championship in 2012. She has made terrific runs, including last year’s close calls. She finished fourth or better five times last year, including a pair of runner-up finishes. She lost to Paula Creamer in a playoff at the HSBC Women’s Championship in Singapore, where Creamer beat her with a 75-foot eagle putt.
“I’ve been knocking on the door so many times, but it hasn’t happened, but I know I’m so close,” Munoz said. “Last year was so close to an amazing year for me.
“So when I started to practice in January, I was super focused. I’m ready to have a good year. I know if I play the way I can, improving a few things, I can be pretty good out here.”