Jane Barlow Leona Maguire (file pic).
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Cavan's Leona Maguire two off the lead after flying start in Florida
Maguire and Stephanie Meadow are in action at the LPGA Drive On Championship.

IRELAND’S LEONA MAGUIRE has enjoyed a flying start at the LPGA Drive On Championship in Florida, just two shots off the lead after the opening round.

The Cavan golfer carded five birdies and two bogeys in a three-under-par 69 at Golden Ocala Golf Club, where American trio Nelly Korda, Jennifer Kupcho and Austin Ernst are currently sharing the lead on three-under.

Korda — eyeing back to back wins and hoping to continue her family’s success — fought through a migraine headache to fire a 67 and help set the pace.

Kupcho reeled off four birdies in a row on the front nine then hung on through the pain for a bogey-free round to match compatriots Korda and Ernst for the lead near Orlando.

“On 14, I was ready to get off the golf course,” Kupcho said. “Not feeling great.

“On 18 tee, I kind of just started feeling numbness in may hand. I think I have a little bit of stiff neck going on… I stood over it and I was like, ‘There’s no way I can trust myself to hit the shot right now.’”

China’s Yan Jing and American Jaye Marie Green shared fourth on 68 while a pack on 69 includes Magure, New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, Australian Katherine Kirk and American Jessica Korda.

England’s Mel Reid and Bronte Law are on two under, while Maguire’s fellow Irish Olympian Stephanie Meadow sits tied for 29th after her one-under 71, carding three birdies and two bogeys.

After birdies at the par-3 fourth and sixth and par-5 fifth and seventh, Kupcho collected her last birdie at the par-4 13th and parred in, but was then headed for a dark room rather than the driving range.

“It’s pretty bad,” she said. “Even right now it’s really blurry. I can’t really see anything over to the left. It’s definitely really hard. I pretty much just leaned a lot on my caddie and just trusted him, tried to do the best that I could.”

Kupcho, chasing her first LPGA win, said she had three such headaches during the off-season but they now strike “recently decently often.”

“Usually the blurriness goes away within 45 minutes, but they kind of just come on at any point,” she said. “I was standing over a shot and that’s when it kicked in. I never really know.”

Third-ranked Korda, in a rare pairing with sister Jessica, said she was tired after taking her fourth career LPGA victory last weekend.

“Just being tired, your swing is all over the place, so I tried to tighten up my swing,” she said. “I hit it pretty solid, so hopefully I can keep improving on that the next couple days.”

- ‘Just fun’ for sisters -

Nelly Korda played down the notion of a sibling rivalry, saying she and Jessica are supportive of each other’s shotmaking.

“It’s just fun for us other there,” she said.

Ernst birdied five of the last seven holes, including a 20-foot chip-in at the 17th, to match the leaders.

“I felt like I managed it very well,” Ernst said. “Game feels really good. Made some good putts, hit some good shots. Had a mix of some quality iron shots and then some good putting.”

She plans to maintain an attacking style.

“I play well when I’m aggressive, so I’ll keep attacking pins when I can,” Ernst said. “With how my putter worked, I know when I don’t I can still make some 25, 30-footers.”

Yesterday’s successful outing came after Maguire carded a 72 in the final round last weekend to finish in a tie for 16th, as Nelly Korda claimed a three-shot victory.

- with reporting from Emma Duffy 

© – AFP, 2021

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