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Maguire keeps her composure to overcome slow start and finish with a bang at Irish Open

The opening day of the Women’s Irish Open saw Leona Maguire finish tied for fifth.

Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

THE BEST REPRESENTATION of Dromoland Castle’s course and its risk-reward nature is the 18th. A par-5 515-yard curving hole incorporating water on the right before the flag or wide-open green on the left headed away from it.

On the first day of the €400,000 KPMG Women’s Irish Open, it produced everything from a 3 to a 6.

Go from broke from the tee risks finding the wet. Swing wide and it is bogey territory. How do you to sign off? 

It was a day that started with fears of a washout. The dawn chorus was made up of unfurling raingear and snapping umbrellas. In the car park fields, there were legitimate concerns cars would end up stuck if the ground quality declined much further.

spectators-look-on Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

To the ground staff’s credit, the course was unaffected and the greens stayed fast. A gentle morning trickle of attendees became a steady stream by mid-day. There was no doubting who they came to see. ‘Will she start from here?’ They asked pointing to the green alongside the clubhouse. Despite the fact it was hours before Leona Maguire would tee off, everyone knew who they were asking about. 

The presence of the world number 18 was always going to be the main draw. Her portrait dominating the welcome billboard only reinforced that fact. On a course that recently underwent a €2 million makeover, she loomed as the greatest asset.

Part of the investment saw the trees chopped down on that final hole, bringing the water into play. It poses a question, play it safe or take a chance? What would Maguire do? Well, what is she about?

Her game has many components, but gambling is not one of them. She rarely goes chasing or plays erratically. Maguire is methodical. Thorough. Her development from underage sensation to pioneer was forged with laudable consistency. Ticking every box, covering every base.

As a 13-year-old, she was the youngest player to win the Irish Women’s Close Championship. She enjoyed a record-breaking 135 weeks as the world number one in women’s amateur golf. Her four-year scholarship stint at Duke University included weekly progression. There she studied psychology which only affirmed her career plan; do the work, invest the hours, reap the reward.

Did that rise feature any gambles? Not quite. Maguire forfeited over $100,000 in prize money during her amateur status but days like today show precisely why. Her ascension was always a question of when – not if. Who needs to gamble when you can just win?

Early wobbles were understandable. The toll of playing on home soil can only have been taxing. The Cavan women’s personal sponsors KPMG rowed in behind this event and helped make it happen. After closing out a three-week stint on the LPGA Tour with a missed cut at the Portland Classic, she flew from the west coast of America to Ireland at the start of the week.  

Several players completed nine holes for Wednesday’s Pro-Am. Because Leona Maguire is Leona Maguire, she played 18. On Tuesday, she had to swing by the Korean Embassy to sort out a visa.  

That builds to create pressure and at the start, it showed. Playing alongside last year’s Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew and Spain’s Ana Pelaez Trivino, Maguire’s scuffed chip at the first was greeted by a collective cry of ‘no!’ from behind the rope.

aideen-walsh Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

By early afternoon wet gear made way for hats and sunglasses. Thursday’s crowd was modest with a sizeable local influence. Earlier in the day, Ennis schoolteacher and Irish international Aideen Walsh spent much of her round nodding at familiar faces. Walsh finished as the best of the rest for the Irish on one-under-par.

She had declared her intention to hedge her bets on the 18th before starting and three-shoot her way to the green. That hole came midway through her round having teed off at the tenth. Overall, it was a superb showing by the Clare amateur, hitting 17 pars and closing with a birdie. The weekend beckons.  

Meanwhile, the Maguire trailing cohort was almost motherly. A unified exhale on the third was not quite enough to push a short putt over the edge and she had to settle for par. The cheer that greeted her first birdie of the day on the third was charged with relief.

Later in the afternoon, several children filtered into the crowd after school and were gently ushered to the front so that they could catch a glimpse of the present Irish women’s golf figurehead and of the bright future that awaits them.

“It was nice to see kids out watching today and dreaming of one day playing in this themselves,” Maguire said post-round at the clubhouse.

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A chip opened the door for a birdie on the sixth. On the seventh, the party started. The hole would have been at home amidst crazy golf. Teeing off from an enormous hill, the par three overlooks a green-sized lake currently occupied by an advertising hoarding and an oversized novelty ball.

a-view-of-competitors-during-the-first-day-of-the-competition Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Maguire’s approach was flawless. She made her way down the slope among the crowd, head down and in the game. That birdie was followed by another with the 27-year-old smiling after a 20-foot putt for a hat-trick. ‘Well done,’ bellowed proud observers. For the remainder of her round, the groans were reserved for the TV buggy that mounted a curb while trying to exit the fairway at the 13th.  

“Any time you make a few birdies the energy levels always go up,” she later explained.

“It has been a busy few weeks but nice to be back in front of home fans, there was a nice few people around today and anytime you get those cheers when you hole a putt or hit a nice shot, it spurs you on a bit more.”

She finished on five-under-par 67, tied fifth and two strokes off the lead shared by Alexandra Swayne and Lina Boqvist.

As for that 18th high-stakes finisher? Maguire didn’t verve too far left or right. Instead, she drove straight down the middle of the fairway, matching the length of both partners. From there they both closed with a par, Matthew coming uneasily close to finding water for the third time. 

The Irish woman hit the heart of the green, closed in thanks to a long downwards putt and clinically tapped home for birdie to bring the curtain down on day one with a flourish. Ominous.

About the author:

Maurice Brosnan

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