BELLEAIR, Fla. — Azahara Munoz came out swinging on Sunday at The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican, carding a final-round 67 to finish in a tie for second and retain her status for the 2024 LPGA Tour season.
Munoz entered the week sitting at 100th in the Race to the CME Globe, right on the number to maintain status for next year and avoid a trip to LPGA Q-Series. The 35-year-old #LPGAMom had been competing this season on the starts she received from her maternity exemption after having her son Lucas in 2022 and would have only had three events of that exemption left to use next season. Those three starts would have expired after the third event on the 2024 schedule, no matter if she played or not, meaning that if Munoz ultimately finished higher than 100th in the Race to the CME Globe after this week at Pelican Golf Club, she would have lost her status next year.
The Spaniard kicked off a stressful week at The ANNIKA with a 6-under 64, tying her second-lowest career round on the LPGA Tour, and then carded rounds of 69 and 64 the next two days to sit in a tie for fourth entering the final round. Sunday saw Munoz record one bogey and four birdies, three of which came in a four-hole stretch from Nos. 6 to 9, and she ultimately finished three shots behind eventual champion Lilia Vu. More importantly, though, she moved up 36 spots in the Race to the CME Globe to 64th, granting her full status for the 2024 season.
Having never really been in this position before, the LPGA Tour veteran was proud of herself for maintaining her composure and getting the job done this week, something that is never easy to do when your back is against the wall and your livelihood is on the line.
“Like I've never been so stressed out in my life. Like even last week, thinking about this week just felt like throwing up the entire week. I've never been so close to losing my card, I guess. Never been in that situation. I don't want to be in it again,” said Munoz. “Trying to win a tournament is stressful, but trying to keep your card is very, very stressful. I'm just really, really proud of how I played this week, especially with what was on the line. I managed to play well, and not just play well, but actually be in contention for the tournament, so pretty happy.”
This week in Belleair, Fla., marked the Spaniard’s 19th event of the 2023 LPGA Tour season. In her 18 previous tournaments, Munoz had missed nine cuts and only managed to find the top 10 once, tying for sixth at the ISPS Handa World Invitational in August. Today’s T2 result is both her first runner-up finish and her first top-five result since the 2020 FREED GROUP Women’s Scottish Open, and her four-day total of 264 is her new career-low 72-hole score on the LPGA Tour, besting her previous benchmark of 270 by six shots.
While Munoz really just wanted to retain her status, she did come incredibly close to qualifying for next week’s CME Group Tour Championship, finishing four spots outside of the top-60 cutoff. Considering she entered the week without a berth in the season-ending tournament even seeming like a possibility, Munoz was pleased that she gave herself a shot at making it to Tiburón Golf Club, and despite coming up just a hair short, she’ll have plenty to build on next season, now having secured full status for 2024.
“Obviously, I knew coming in this week I had to play well to keep my card. Coming into today, I knew it was pretty much set, but I didn't want to think that. I just wanted to play well and give myself a chance to make it to CME,” said Munoz, who hasn’t played in the event since 2020. “I think I saw Grant (Boone) posted that Lydia needed a solo second to make it to CME, and she was just behind me, so I was like, that means I need a solo second. Unfortunately, I didn't make that, but I still had a really good week, and I'm just very happy.”