Maguire fails to find forward gears on moving day at Drive On

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Leona Maguire (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

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Leona Maguire’s challenge faded on moving day at the LPGA’s Drive On Championship but she’s still in line for a big week ahead of the final round in Florida.

Looking to build on her tied-16th result last week at the Gainbridge LPGA, the Cavan professional carded a one-over par round of 73 on Saturday to fall to share of 11th at three-under par. Three bogeys from the ninth to the 12th holes of her third round proved her undoing with Maguire picking up birdies at the fourth and 18th as Austin Ernst moved 10 strokes clear of the Irishwoman atop the board at 13-under.

There’s still much to play for, however, with Maguire just four strokes back of third; her best finish on Tour a tied fourth result in Australia in February last year. Maguire found 14 of 18 greens in regulation on Saturday but needed 33 putts, something she’ll need to improve should she come close to toppling that tied-fourth result.

Meanwhile it was a better day for Stephanie Meadow who needed just 28 putts in her one-under par round of 71. The Jordanstown professional moved into a share of 43rd place at one-over after trading two birdies with one bogey in a solid moving day effort.

It looks to be a two horse race at the top as American duo Ernst (-13) and Jennifer Kupcho (-12) put daylight between themselves and the field in Ocala. With the chasing pack led by a three-way tie for third at seven-under, much will depend on how the leading duo play with Kupcho grabbing the momentum with a 12-foot eagle putt at her 54th hole to cut Ernst’s advantage to just one.

Kupcho fired a two-under 70 at rainy Golden Ocala, setting up the eagle with a fairway wood from 215 yards that just cleared the rocks and water fronting the green on the par-5 18th.

“I actually was like standing on the tee and I was like, `I feel an eagle coming on.’ So, it was pretty cool to do it,” Kupcho said. “But when I got down there to the fairway I definitely didn’t think it would be possible to get it close and I was not aiming anywhere close to where my ball went, but it happened to go right at the pin and carried by a couple yards, carried the water by a couple yards, and ended up in a good spot. I was able to just make the putt.”

Ernst parred the last six holes in a 69: “I didn’t quite have it ball-striking-wise today,” Ernst said. “I hit a few good shots, but then kind of sprayed a few drives and kind of had to work a little bit harder that I have had to work the last couple days.”

“I know I need to go play well.” Ernst added of her Sunday gameplan. “I can’t not play well and win, so it’s going to be the same type stuff. Obviously, sleeping on the lead the last two days I know what to expect. I’ve slept really well.”

Kupcho will be going in search of her first Tour win on Sunday. The former Wake Forest star from Colorado won the 2018 NCAA title and the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur in 2019.

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