Leona Maguire’s hopes of jumping into Poppie’s Pond faded on Saturday but she’ll be hoping for a strong finish for what’s been a Major week in her development on the LPGA Tour.
After coming out of the blocks firing with an eagle at the second to move to six-under par and rekindle her title hopes, Maguire battled through her moving day round thereafter, with six bogeys dotted across her scorecard and two other birdies.
All-up it was a two-over par round of 74 that saw the Cavan professional slip to a tie for 33rd, a full 12 shots back of Thailand’s Patty Tavatanakit’s lead. However, no doubt disappointed after Saturday’s showing, where Maguire found just 10 of 18 greens in reg and made just one of five sand saves, it’s still been a big-step up this week for Maguire who found herself leading a Major Championship for the first time in her career. It will be a learning experience for the 26-year old but she’ll be grinding on Sunday to ensure a best possible finish with plenty of ranking points on offer at the year’s first Major.
The same can be said of Stephanie Meadow who’ll be eager to take home a bucket full of points after moving into a tie for 39th at one-under. The Jordanstown professional found just seven of 14 fairways on Saturday but hit 14 of 18 greens in reg to move back into the red for the week ahead of a hopeful big finish on Sunday.
As for the winning of the tournament, Tavatanakit will prove hard to catch despite leading a Major for the first time in her young career. She takes a five shot lead into the final round, having calmly handled the challenges of the Dinah Shore Tournament Course on a windy day with the same calmness and confidence that she has handled the extensive media interest throughout the week.
No one has been more impressed than her caddie, former golf professional Ryan Hogue, who is perhaps best placed to make observations on the young phenom. In what is only their first week together, the two have worked so well you would never know their partnership was only agreed on the Friday of last week’s Kia Classic.
Coincidentally, when Houge, an occasional caddie on both the LPGA and PGA TOUR, recently stepped in at the last minute for Martin Laird’s caddie at the 2020 Shriners Hospitals for Children , the Scot went on to win the tournament. Houge could not be more impressed with what he has seen in his short time with Tavatanakit commenting, “She is very professional for a 21 year old and definitely thinks more like a veteran than rookie.”
Despite having slept on the lead for two consecutive nights, the young Thai star showed no sign of stress as she opened her Saturday round with a birdie, explaining, “It’s always nice to have a good start to feel a little bit more comfortable throughout the day. I was hitting it really good. I’m putting so well right now. I am just really pleased with how everything played out. And obviously it was a little tough today, too, towards the end. It was hot. It was getting windy. Even though I shot good scores, the process was still a little bit challenging.”
Ally Ewing, who won her first LPGA title last year at the LPGA Drive On Championship – Reynolds Lake Oconee, playing under her then maiden name of McDonald, shot a blemish-free 66 to propel her up the leaderboard into tied second place with defending Champion Mirim Lee on -9. The highest placed American felt that recent win would stand her in good stead ahead of the final round stating:
“I think it definitely gives me confidence. To rely on something that you’ve done before I think is a very settling feeling. Certainly it’s a major championship and it’s a little bit different, but I think the biggest part for me when I got that win was the day before and the morning before I teed off every day, on Saturday, Sunday I had great conversations with my caddie and just making myself aware of the uncomfortability that I was going to feel and acknowledging that.
“If you try to brush it off and put it to the side, then you’re not acknowledging the truth. So I’m going to go ahead and acknowledge that it’s probably going to be tough tomorrow. I’m going to feel uncomfortable at times, but I’ll embrace it and try to do the best I can.”
South Korea’s Mirim Lee has mounted an impressive title defence, rising steadily up the leaderboard over the first few days with a third round 68 which included six birdies.
Full scoring HERE