Maguire has it all to play for at season-ending Tour Championship

Adam McKendry
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Maguire has it all to play for at season-ending Tour Championship

Leona Maguire (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

At the start of the year, Leona Maguire sat down and pencilled in her goals for the season. It’s fair to say the goalposts have shifted considerably since then.

Back in January, Maguire had two main ones she wanted to achieve: finishing top-10 in a Major and finishing the regular season inside the top-40 on the Race to CME Globe standings to comfortably qualify for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

In July, she achieved the first in style in the final round of the Amundi Evian Championship in France, matching a major low score, either male or female, with a stunning 61 and, in the process, securing a tied-sixth finish. One down.

And this week she enters the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Florida ranked 17th in the points list and as a real contender to mount a challenge for the overall title. Two down, and then some.

“I’m just treating this as a bonus week really,” says the Cavan ace. “The goal at the start of the year was to finish inside the top-40 and I’ve more than done that, so anything more that comes from this week is a bonus.

“Been a long year but been a very good year, so hopefully I can finish off on a positive note.”

It’s been well worn how good this rookie season has been for Maguire, highlighted by finishing second in the Rookie of the Year race only to Patty Tavatanakit and, of course, being unquestionably the star performer in Europe’s sensational Solheim Cup win.

While that elusive win has thus far evaded her, it hasn’t been for a lack of trying from the 26-year-old, who has racked up two second-place finishes at the Lotte Championship and Meijer LPGA Classic and a further three top-10 finishes too.

But for the final week, all those prior results go out the window. All 60 players start from scratch again, meaning that what came before no longer matters. Jenny Coleman, 60th in the Race to CME Globe standings, has just as much chance of winning the whole thing as No.1 Jin Young Ko.

There are arguments for and against the system. On one hand, there’s no incentive to finish high in the order of merit because, as long as you’re in the top-60 going into the last week, you still have an equal chance of winning. But on the other hand, unlike the PGA or European Tour finales, more than just a small handful of players are in contention in the week.

“I think it makes it more exciting,” says Maguire. “You want on Sunday a lot of people coming down the stretch with a chance to win, and hopefully it will be an exciting finish.

“That was one of the things with the FedEx (Cup), with guys having multiple shot leads going into the week it meant only a few guys realistically had a chance.

“That’s the good thing about the LPGA, you’ve so many good players and any of them genuinely have a chance of winning. Anybody could take home the title this week, which is a testament to the LPGA and should make for more exciting viewing.”

On the face of it, it looks like Maguire is coming into this week not in the greatest form having finished 28th at the Pelican Championship last week, and 61st at the BMW Championship the event before.

But that’s not counting a course-record 62 in the first round in Belleair last week, some of the best golf the Slieve Russell star has produced all year, and she hopes consigning her disappointing weekend performance to the past will serve her well in Naples.

“Got off to basically a perfect start and then didn’t have the best weekend. Didn’t putt well at all on Sunday. That’s golf,” added Maguire, who tees off her first round alongside Celine Boutier and Lizette Salas at 1.15pm Irish time.

“Reset and go again this week. Had three out of four good days last week, so try and have one more than that this week.”

On the face of it, it is hard to look past the top-two players in the world, Nelly Korda and Jin Young Ko, going head-to-head for the crown given the utterly sensational year the pair have had, barely giving anyone else a look-in.

Such has been their dominance, Korda and Ko have won nine tournaments between them in a season where only two other players won multiple times, and the pair have combined to claim the title at four of the last six events. Remarkably, they are so far ahead of third-placed Inbee Park in the world rankings that the Korean is closer in points to 19th-placed Lizette Salas than Ko in second.

Ko looks to be the more in-form of the two having won three times since the start of September to Korda’s one, but the American has won most recently after claiming the Pelican Championship last week which saw her claim the World No.1 ranking.

But in a one-week shootout it’s anybody’s game. You can’t help feeling that Lexi Thompson is owed one after last week’s heartbreak at the Pelican, while Lydia Ko is probably the most in-form player outside of the top-two after four consecutive top-five finishes, including a win in Saudi Arabia.

Evian Championship winner Minjee Lee and Canada’s Brooke Henderson are two to keep an eye on too, as is the ever-capable Park after a consistent season. Don’t count out the exciting Co Cavan woman who seems to revel playing on the biggest stage either. Wouldn’t this be a good time to finally get over that white line?

And who knows, maybe Coleman, the last woman into the field this week, will stun us all and walk away the big winner. Anything can happen…

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