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Leona Maguire star of the show on day one in Antrim and sparkles with finish

Maguire carded a five-under 68 at Galgorm Castle and sits tied for second place.

Leona Maguire (file photo).
Leona Maguire (file photo).
Image: PA

IF LEONA MAGUIRE had said after her first tee shot that she was a little disappointed in how she was swinging the golf club on day one at the ISPS HANDA World Invitational, you’d have believed her.

But after recovering from losing her opening stroke of the day to card a five-under 68 at Galgorm Castle and sit tied for second place – bettered only by one player, leader Amanda Doherty – she was still saying that.

So goodness knows how low she’s going to go if she starts swinging the club well.

It was Maguire who was the star of the show on day one in Co Antrim, and rightly so.

She’s the best ranked player in the field, she’s the local hero and, most importantly, she was playing the best golf of anyone on the course in the afternoon. Her three birdies in a row to finish were sublime.

All this after there was a genuine fear she had cracked under pressure after that opening tee shot. A minor speed bump on her way to a fantastic opening performance.

If she wasn’t driven by her own inner desire to win, then the crowds flocking to her marquee group of former Open champion Georgia Hall and Scandinavian Mixed winner Linn Grant would have provided plenty of impetus. You could tell where the Cavan woman was at all times just by following the herds of spectators walking alongside her, and their cheers were loud.

Her playing partners would have been a fairly big motivating factor, too, with Hall also signing for a 68 and Grant a 70 – it seemed like they pushed each other on, Maguire desperate not to be left behind by her wretched start, and she bounced back so quickly with an eagle at the par-five third.

Birdies followed at the fourth, fifth, ninth and 13th around bogeys at the sixth, eighth and 12th. But it was her triple salvo to end the day that got the crowds on their feet and has them eager to see just how far Maguire can go in her bid to win a second LPGA Tour title.

Doherty is the woman in prime position to lift the trophy currently after a six-under 67 at Galgorm, although she will be looking over her shoulder nervously at the players following in her wake. Hall and Maguire are both LPGA Tour winners, with the former a Major champion, and Denmark’s Emily Kristine Pederson – who is also on five-under – is a Solheim Cup star.

At 211th in the world rankings, the 29-year-old American doesn’t exactly have the profile of a Tour winner. But, then again, neither did last year’s winner Pajaree Anannarukarn, so this could be a week for someone to make a name for themselves.

Scotland’s Ewen Ferguson, meanwhile, was top dog on the men’s side of the draw and then some, smashing the course record at Galgorm with a nine-under 61 that saw him chip in twice for eagle on the 10th and 18th. At the age of 26, he already holds four course records.

His score was five shots better than anyone else at Galgorm. His score was four shots better than anyone at Massereene too. Already he has positioned himself superbly to win a second DP World Tour title, or at the very least be in the mix heading into the weekend.

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Coincidentally, like on the women’s side, the best ranked player in the field lies second as Richard Bland opened with a five-under 65 at Massereene, which was later matched by Borja Virto and Felix Palsen to have a trio tied for runner-up. While Ferguson’s profile is much higher than Doherty’s – he is already a DP World Tour winner, after all – he, too, will be aware of who’s coming behind him.

The hope is that one of the local players can work themselves into contention as well. John Murphy and David Carey, both on strong runs of form, carded three-under 67s at Galgorm and Massereene respectively, with Paul Dunne a shot further back after back-to-back birdies to finish.

How much would tournament organisers be dreaming of two Irish players tussling down the stretch, ideally on both sides of the draw. In the glorious August sunshine, the crowds will come out for Sunday’s final round, but especially so if the thought of a local winner is in the offing.

But arguably the biggest winners of the week have already been crowned in Galgorm and Massereene themselves. With the sun beaming down and temperatures in the high-20s, they will never have a better showcase for the product on offer when the shots are beamed across the world on TV.

Not that golf tourism in Ireland really needs it but, as a fairly prominent supermarket proudly claims, ‘every little helps’.

A local winner would certainly help. Maguire can deliver.

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