Castrale, of Palm Desert, Calif., played the back nine first at Palm View Golf Course and toured that side at 5-under 31 on a windless morning. Then the former University of Southern California player and LPGA Tour member cruised in as the clubhouse leader at 2 under on her second nine, recording 29 putts, hitting 18 greens and finding 11 fairways in her bogey-free round.
'We were expecting it to be windy, but it was pretty calm today,' said Castrale, who played by her maiden name of Nicole Dalkas until January, when she married caddie/husband Craig Castrale. 'I guess it's about time to start trusting it and let it happen out here.'
The difference in Friday's opening round of the 54-hole event had much to do with the absence of that notorious Texas wind. In her practice round earlier in the week, Castrale used a driver, 4-wood and wedge to reach the 488-yard, into-the-wind par-5 10th hole in regulation. In today's first round, she was able to use driver and 4-wood to land just off the green, setting up a chip and a tap-in birdie putt.
'I just executed each shot,' she said. 'Sometimes, you take what you get.'
Fellow USC Trojan Becky Lucidi of Poway, Calif., turned in a 68 in the morning's first group and Futures Tour rookie Jessica Krasny of Summerville, S.C., also carded a 68 for a share of the clubhouse lead with Lucidi. But Castrale, who seemed remarkably focused in practice three days before the first shot of competition, grabbed the lead for keeps. Only one other player came within a shot of her sparkling opener.
'I prefer hot weather,' admitted Virada Nirapathpongporn of Bangkok, Thailand, who tossed in her own sizzling score of 6-under-par 66 to trail the leader by one. The former NCAA champion from Duke University played the course's four par-5 holes at 5 under par, adding an eagle-3 on the ninth hole. She used her 3-wood from 228 yards to reach the green in two, then drained a 36-foot putt for eagle.
'I had the little fist pump there,' she said with a laugh. 'I learned that from Thailand.'
Celebrating her 23rd birthday the day before, Nirapathpongporn gratefully accepted the gift of a windless first round in Texas and hit 16 greens and 11 fairways. She recorded six birdies, one eagle and two bogeys for the day.
'I played like a 66 today,' said Nirapathpongporn, who tied for seventh at the Thailand Ladies Open two weeks ago. 'I didn't scrape it around out there with a bunch of lucky bounces.'
Su A Kim of Seoul, Korea and Sun Young Yoo, also of Seoul, tied at 3-under 69, followed by rookie Mollie Fankhauser of Columbus, Ohio, Kristin Dufour of Austin, Texas and amateur Taylor Leon of Dallas, all at 2-under-par 70. Leon is a high school student at the David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Fifteen players tied at 1-under 71, while 14 players tied at even-par 72.
Saturday's second round will begin at 8 a.m., off the first and tenth tees. The leaders will tee off at 1:51 p.m.