Munoz tied for Lotte lead after 36 holes


Azahara Munoz wasn’t looking to catch one of those big waves on Oahu’s famed North Shore this week.

She rode one to the Lotte Championship.

She’s been riding high since her clutch finish helped the Europeans upset the Americans in Ireland at the Solheim Cup last fall.

With an 8-under-par 64 at Ko Olina Golf Club on Thursday, the lowest round of her young LPGA career, Munoz moved into a tie for first place with Ai Miyazato midway through the second round.

Munoz, 24, is seeking her first LPGA title. She says she is still feeling the momentum gained with her dramatic Solheim Cup finish.

“I have been playing better since the Solheim Cup,” Munoz told in a phone interview after her round. “It made me believe I can come through when I have to come through.”

In that thrilling European rally late in the Solheim Cup matches, Munoz secured a vital point in a singles victory against Angela Stanford. Munoz did it in breathtaking fashion. With Europe’s back against the wall near day’s end, with Munoz’s match all square, she carved an 8-iron to 5 feet at the 17th hole. Munoz made birdie there to win the hole. The clutch play put a jolt into Killeen Castle, helping Europe win.

In the month after that victory, Munoz finished third at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia and tied for second at the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship.

Closing out a Solheim Cup victory can feel like closing out a major.

Munoz, a Spaniard, hopes that experience will help her claim her first LPGA title.

“I think it’s really going to help,” Munoz said. “I have been close to winning an LPGA tournament, but not really close. I can’t wait to be in that position.”

Munoz was the LPGA’s Louise Suggs rookie of the year two seasons ago. She distinguished herself before that at Arizona State University, where she won the NCAA individual title and helped her team to the national crown. Though she didn’t speak English when she arrived at ASU, she ended up graduating Summa Cum Laude with a degree in psychology.

In Thursday’s second round at Ko Olina, Munoz gave herself a nice psychological boost at the sixth hole. She holed a wedge there from 102 yards for an eagle 2.

“It was funny,” Munoz said. “My caddie was telling the ball to sit, I was telling it to go, and it went in the hole. It really got me going.”

Munoz closed hard, making birdies at four of her last five holes.

Confident in her ball striking, Munoz said she has been frustrated with her putting of late. Still, she tied for 15th at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and tied for 12th at the Kia Classic in her last two starts.

“I have always been really good ball striker, but my putting hasn’t been as good,” Munoz said. “The last two tournaments, in San Diego and at Kraft, I hit the ball well, but my putting was so bad. So the last two weeks, I’ve hardly hit any balls. I’ve been working really hard on my putting, and now I’m rolling the ball much better.”

A hot putter might be all Munoz needs to lock down that first victory.