Azahara Munoz, Ai Miyazato tied for lead in ANA Inspiration
RANCHO MIRAGE: Azahara Munoz was so concerned about the water fronting the par-5 18th green that she ended up in nearly as bad a place late Thursday afternoon in the ANA Inspiration.
It ended up costing her a bogey that dropped her into a tie for the first-round lead with Ai Miyazato at 5-under 67 in the first major championship of the year.
In breezy conditions, Munoz was well back off the tee on her final hole and hit her second shot into the right fairway bunker. Wary of hitting it into the water, the Spaniard hit her third through the green to the back fringe. That left a difficult downhill putt that she did well to hit to 7 feet.
“Obviously, I didn’t want to hit it in the water,” Munoz said. “I know you’re not supposed to think that, but the lie wasn’t the best. It was a little down, and the wind was really into my face, so we tried to play past the pin, and I mean, the contact was really good, so it just came a little too long and it was quite an impossible putt from there. But to be honest, I’m glad it just flew the water.”
Miyazato played in the morning before the wind picked up at Mission Hills.
The 5-foot-2 Japanese player birdied four of the first six holes and closed with a 12-foot birdie putt on 18. She won the last of her nine LPGA Tour titles in 2012.
“I’m definitely happy to see my name on the board, but it’s just the first day and it’s a long way to go,” Miyazato said.
No. 1 in the world for 11 weeks in 2010, she is 90th now after climbing 67 spots Monday with a third-place finish last week in Carlsbad. It was her first top-10 finish since 2013.
“That was huge,” Miyazato said. “I definitely gained my confidence and I really felt good with my game again. I was kind of really happy to play golf again. … I was kind of struggling the last couple years. It was really hard.”
She has no aspirations to return to No. 1.
“I know how hard it is to be No. 1 in the world because I’ve experienced it before,” Miyazato said. “That’s actually not my goal anymore because I went there before. But still I want to win. That’s my motivation, especially this week.”
Munoz won the 2012 Match Play Championship for lone LPGA Tour title. She had surgery a year ago to remove a benign tumor from the base of the thumb in the palm of her left hand.
“I’ve been really working on my attitude, but the results haven’t really showed, even though I’ve been doing so much better,” Munoz said. “I know I need to keep believing in myself and eventually it’s going to happen. It obviously hasn’t been the easiest of years for me since the surgery and all of that, but I know I’m a good player.”
Scotland’s Catriona Matthew, South Africa’s Lee-Anne Pace and Japan’s Shiho Oyama were a stroke back.
Long-hitting Lexi Thompson, the 2014 winner, was at 69 in a large group that included Gerina Piller and South Korean stars In Gee Chun and Ha Na Jang.
“It was a pretty good day,” Thompson said. “I putted really well. I didn’t hit too many fairways, and was a little off, off the tee, but they were very solid tee shots.”
Chun is returning from a back injury that sidelined her for a month. The US Women’s Open champion was hurt when she was struck by a hard-case suitcase that Jang’s father dropped down an escalator at the Singapore airport.
“I say hi today in the morning to In Gee, and yesterday, too,” said Jang, a two-time winner this year. “There’s no problem right now.”
Top-ranked Lydia Ko opened with a 70. The 18-year-old New Zealander won Sunday at Carlsbad.
“I was striking my irons and everything fairly good, but I didn’t hit my drive very well, especially on the back nine,” Ko said. “I gave myself quite a few looks up the hill for birdie, but I just wasn’t able to commit to my speed.”
Second-ranked Inbee Park and Michelle Wie also shot 70.
Wie stood more upright and crouched on her short putts, trying to emulate Jack Nicklaus. On longer putts, she continued to lower her torso almost parallel to the ground.
“I kind of always saw how Jack putted and it kind of worked out OK for him,” Wie said. “I’ve always been kind of like Jack in putting and stuff, and I decided to go a little more narrow.”
Defending champion Brittany Lincicome and 2011 winner Stacy Lewis shot 72. Last year, Lincicome eagled the final hole of regulation and beat Lewis on the third hole of a playoff. Lewis is trying to snap a 45-event victory drought.