Leading rookie Munoz begins sprint to the finish

Azahara Munoz of Spain

Azahara Munoz of Spain

Navistar LPGA Classic

Oct. 7-10

Course: Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, Capitol Hill, The Senator (6,607 yards, par 72), Prattville, Ala.

Purse: $1.3 million. Winner's share: $195,000.

Last year: Lorena Ochoa successfully defended her title for the last of her 27 LPGA Tour victories, beating Michelle Wie and Brittany Lang by four strokes. Ochoa retired in May.

Azahara Munoz rushed from a mandatory financial planning meeting Tuesday afternoon to the Prattville, Ala., FedEx to finish off paperwork required for her Korean visa. Such is the life of a globetrotting LPGA rookie. 

In a year when so many of the tour’s season-ending accolades are too close to call, Munoz of Spain has sprinted away from her rookie peers. Going into this week’s Navistar LPGA Classic, the Spaniard has 562 rookie points to Amanda Blumenherst’s 247.

Munoz is understandably surprised by her sizable lead, given that she has played consistently, but not always spectacularly. Blumenherst edged Munoz for College Player of the Year three times and beat her in the final of the 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur. Munoz, however, owns the ’08 NCAA individual crown and ’09 British Women’s Amateur title. She also won her professional debut on the Ladies European Tour.

“(Amanda) hasn’t been playing her best,” Munoz said with little tact.

THREE TO WATCH

I.K. Kim: Might as well keep picking her until she wins. Kim has finished in the top 6 in seven of the last eight events.

Alexis Thompson: The kid is back, playing this week on a sponsor exemption. Last year, Thompson was tied for the lead here after two rounds.

Se Ri Pak: Won in Alabama in May and then suffered through a terrible summer of missed cuts and withdrawals. She took six weeks off after the U.S. Women’s Open and has played only once since, finishing tied for eighth in Canada.

Munoz, 22, had enjoyed a consistent season until coming back from three consecutive tournaments in Europe. She always has had difficulties returning to the States from windy conditions. Munoz missed back-to-back cuts in Oregon and Canada, which marked the first time she had finished outside the top 31 all season. 

She’s 25th on the money list and hopes to play in every event remaining on the LPGA schedule, if she gets into the Lorena Ochoa Invitational.

Munoz isn’t one to over-think tour life or set too many goals. She’s competitive, but quite balanced. Even though she won her first pro tournament in a showdown against former ASU teammate Anna Nordqvist in Spain, Munoz isn’t obsessed with mirroring that on the LPGA. Of course, she’d like to win again, but right now she’s just moving along, trying to make putts. 

“I’m not thinking that much about anything,” Munoz said. 

The same can’t be said, however, for those vying for the top world spot. They have plenty to ponder. Five players from five countries are in the mix for World No. 1: 1. Ai Miyazato 2. Jiyai Shin 3. Cristie Kerr 4. Yani Tseng 5. Suzann Pettersen.

The difference between Nos. 1 and 5 is a mere 0.67, and seven events remain. Of the contenders, only Miyazato and Kerr are in the field this week in Prattville.

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