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College teammates help Spain to a successful start at International Crown

The last time Azahara Munoz and Carlota Ciganda played together at Caves Valley Golf Club was during the 2009 NCAA championship as teammates on the Arizona State women's golf team.

That year, Munoz and Ciganda helped lead the Sun Devils to a national title.

Thursday, they returned to Owings Mills as a pairing for fifth-seeded Spain in the inaugural LPGA International Crown. Munoz and Ciganda defeated Thailand's Pornanong Phatlum and Onnarin Sattayabanphot, 3 and 2, helping Spain to second-place in Pool A through the first day of competition.

"I do remember [the course] playing a little shorter than today," joked Munoz, the 20th-ranked women's golfer in the world. "But I actually remember every hole, so as soon as I stepped on every tee, I knew how I played the hole.

"I actually even remembered the clubs I hit five or six years ago. It's really special to be back for us and [is] obviously bringing us great memories."

Spain's Beatriz Recari and Belen Mozo halved with fourth-seeded Thailand's second pairing, sisters Ariya Jutanugarn and Moriya Jutanugarn, leaving Spain with three points through Thursday. Eight-seeded Chinese Taipei leads Group A with four points after sweeping its two matches against the No. 1 United States squad.

Munoz and Ciganda never trailed their opponents Thursday — a performance Giganda attributed to her close relationship with Munoz. Along with being teammates for one year at Arizona State, they played together once for Europe in the 2013 Solheim Cup.

"Playing today with her, it felt like always," Ciganda said. "So comfortable out there — just having fun, laughing and making birdies."

Munoz and Ciganda will be paired together again for Friday's match against the U.S.

Win for the ages

Australia's Karrie Webb joined the LPGA Tour in 1996 — the same year Minjee Lee, her partner on Thursday, was born.

"That isn't the first time we have talked about that this week," Webb said and laughed.

At 39, Webb, is the oldest of the 32 players competing this weekend, while Lee, at 18, is the youngest. Thursday, they teamed up to beat the South Korean duo of Na Yeon Choi and I.K. Kim by two holes.

The victory gave seventh-seeded Australia it's only two points on the day. Webb and Lee will compete with each other again Friday against Sweden.

"I was a little bit nervous starting off today," said Lee, the only amateur in the field. "The atmosphere was really nerve wracking, but exciting as well."

The other Australian pair, Katherine Kirk and Lindsey Wright, lost to South Korea's Inbee Park and So Yeon Ryu, 3 and 2.

Ryu, ranked ninth in the world, had five birdies and Park added two, while Kirk and Wright combined for just three birdies all day.

"I think the best thing is that we have teammates and two of us or four of us trying to coordinate to bring out some good results," said Park, who's ranked third in the world. "That's why it's so much fun."

With two points apiece, South Korea and Australia are tied for second place in Pool B behind Japan (three points).

Playing from ahead

Neither of Japan's pairings trailed at Thursday against Sweden. Ai Miyazato and Sakura Yokomine were 1 up for 12 of the 18 holes played, and a birdie by Yokomine on the 18th hole gave them a 2-up victory.

"It was just great fun," Miyazato said. "Toward the end, it was kind of a tough match, but still, under the pressure, I like to play, so it was really fun."

Japan's other pairing of Mamiko Higa and Mika Miyazato — the younger sister of Ai — halved its match against Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Hedwall.

Nordqvist birdied the 16th to even the match, then narrowly missed a birdie chance on the 18th that would've given Sweden a victory. The halved match left Sweden in last place in Group B with one point.

"I'm not disappointed because I felt that we played a lot better," Hedwall said. "I felt like we had a lot of good chances, but we couldn't really convert on the greens."

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