It’s Plain that the Rain Reminds Ciganda of Spain July 14, 2017 | BEDMINSTER, N.J. By Lisa D. Mickey

Early momentum on Friday morning carried Carlota Ciganda to a 1-under 71, keeping her very much in the mix for the weekend. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

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Carlota Ciganda was like many other bleary-eyed pros hoping to move on to the weekend when she returned to the course early Friday morning to complete her last hole of the weather-hampered first round of the U.S. Women’s Open Championship.

Ciganda made that leap on Friday, finishing off an opening round of 69 and adding a 71 to move close to the top of the leader board at 4-under-par 140, in a tie for sixth place as the second round continued.

“I’m happy with the result [and I’m] just trying to stick to my plan with my caddie,” said Ciganda, 27, of Pamplona, Spain. “Happy to be here for two more days.”

The Spaniard has never finished better than a tie for 39th in the Women’s Open and has missed the cut in her last two starts, but she hopes to improve on that result this week in her sixth Women’s Open, even as her career is trending upward.

Ciganda has produced three top-10 finishes on the LPGA Tour this year, including a tie for fifth at the Kingsmill Championship in May. It took a while, since joining the LPGA in 2012, but she finally earned her first two LPGA Tour wins in 2016.

“I had no doubt that with Carlota, it was just a matter of time,” said Marta Figueras-Dotti, a former Spanish National Team coach who has worked with Ciganda. “I think getting comfortable with her swing, her team, and being in the United States were a few factors that may have kept her from winning sooner, but her performance was excellent in any case.”

Indeed, Ciganda credits her team of caddie Terry McNamara, the longtime former looper for World Golf Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam, and coach Jorge Parada, the head instructor at the Tour Academy at TPC Sawgrass, for getting her on track.

Parada shortened her backswing to tighten up the long hitter’s consistency. McNamara has brought the calm confidence to his player that he used to reinforce Sorenstam at the height of her LPGA career.

“I think just trying to listen to them and learn from all the experience they have,” said Ciganda, when asked what the difference has been in her game recently. “I love competing and playing golf and I’m very lucky to be here playing and very, very happy.”

With rain soaking the area since late Thursday afternoon, Ciganda was smiling as an already long-playing course got longer, and the speedy, dry greens early in the week slowed down with the steady precipitation.

When things got soggy, Ciganda stepped up. The two-time Pac-12 Conference champion (2009-2010) from Arizona State University even admitted she liked inclement weather after she slogged her way right up the leader board on Friday.

“To be honest, I like playing in tough conditions,” she said. “Where I play in Spain in the winter, I am so used to playing in the rain.”

Ciganda added that she enjoys difficult conditions because she likes the challenge and prefers a long, soft golf course because she is a long ball hitter.

“I think I am mentally tough,” added Ciganda, whose hometown features the annual “Running of the Bulls,” when man and beast take to the city’s streets in a long-standing tradition.

Her former national-team coach agreed.

“To me, her greatest assets are her mind, her passion for the game, her short game and her emotional resilience,” added Figueras-Dotti, who was the first Spaniard to play on the LPGA Tour. “She reminds me of [tennis player] Rafael Nadal.”

Ciganda’s amateur record is filled with superlatives. She won the 2007 Women’s British Amateur Championship and was the Women’s European Championship winner in 2004 and 2008, and the Spanish national champion from 2000-2006.

A solid team player, Ciganda was a member of the Spanish National Team from 2000-2006, and represented Spain on the 2005 and 2007 European Junior Solheim Cup Team.

In addition, she represented Spain last year in the Rio Olympics and has played on two European Solheim Cup teams.

As an amateur, she first made her presence felt in a USGA championship when she advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Eugene (Ore.) Country Club.

This week’s championship sets the stage for a more comfortable player and offers Ciganda the opportunity to take yet another step. She watched her good friend and compatriot Sergio Garcia win the Masters in April. She watched Nadal win his 10th French Open in June.

Maybe it’s time for another Spaniard to win a major championship.

And maybe, especially with a little rain, Ciganda is a little bullish on her chances.

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.

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