Dubai: Last year`s European Order of Merit winner, Carlota Ciganda of Spain, fired a five-under par 67 Wednesday moments before first-round play was suspended for darkness to join rookie Mireira Prat, also of Spain, and Sweden`s Pernilla Lindberg in the lead of the 500,000 euros Dubai Ladies Masters.
On a day when most players struggled to make birdies on the fast and firm greens of the Majlis course of Emirates Golf Club, the trio were one shot ahead of LPGA Tour star Pornanong Phatlum of Thailand, while Germany`s Caroline Masson was alone in fifth place at three-under par 69.
American world number three and the reigning Women`s British Open champion Stacy Lewis was three shots off the pace after a two-under par 70 round and bunched in a group of seven players that included England`s Charley Hull, who is in the running for the Rookie of the Year honours, and veteran Laura Davies.
When play was suspended, only two groups were out on the course and there will be no change in the tee times for the second round on Thursday.
Ciganda, who now divides her time between the LPGA Tour in America and the European Tour, was delighted with her form.
"I started with a bogey, but played very solid after that. I have been coming to this event for the past five years now, so I know the course well and what needs to be done here," said the Spaniard who made a hat-trick of birdies from the 13th hole onwards on the back nine.
The 24-year-old Prat, who won the European Tour Access Series Order of Merit last week to earn her full card for the 2014 season was bogey-free in her 67 and said: "I putted really well. I think I missed three shots and I recovered very well to make par so I`m very happy."
Lewis, who has not finished outside the top-eight since the beginning of July, made three birdies against a solitary bogey.
However, she clearly did not reap enough benefit of hitting the ball well and struggled on the greens.
Lewis said: "It was a bit frustrating out there. I hit the ball well, but just couldn`t make any putts. I think the longest putt I made was six or seven feet. My speed was a little off on the greens."
Defending champion Feng Shanshan, winner of two LPGA Tour events in the last couple of months, could do no better than a four-over par 76 - a round that contained just one birdie and was in stark contrast with her four rounds last year which yielded a record score of 21-under par.
The world number four Chinese star later revealed she was woken up in the middle of the night in her hotel when another guest knocked on her door and then tried to get in through the window.
"I was scared. I called the reception and found out later it was a guest who had forgotten his room. So, I was up very early, but I wouldn`t use that as an excuse." said Feng.
"I have still got three days to go. I am sure I will sleep well tonight and it will all come back."