Maguire motors into contention with 66 at Tour Championship

Adam McKendry

Leona Maguire (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Adam McKendry

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Leona Maguire believes the conditions could suit a fourth round comeback at the CME Group Tour Championship after she brought herself back into contention going into the final day in Florida.

The Cavan woman fired a superb six-under 66 in her third round to move just two shots off the lead and into a share of seventh on a bunched leaderboard with 18 holes remaining.

Four players lead at Tiburón Golf Club, with Nasa Hataoka, Jin Young Ko, Nelly Korda and Celine Boutier all at 14-under, but there are 13 players within four shots off the lead in what should be a fascinating final day in Florida.

And for her part, Maguire believes the blustery conditions – not too dissimilar to Ireland – could work in her favour going into the final day after a bogey-free round that featured six birdies.

“I think it was the toughest day so far. It was windy, it was gusty. I had to stay really patient, and I feel like we did a pretty good job sort of judging the wind, picking our targets, and executed pretty well,” said the 26-year-old.

“There are a lot of great golfers ahead of me on the leaderboard and around me, so it’s going to take another low one (to win). At the same time, it’s a golf course you have to stay really patient on, take your chances when you get them, and be smart about it.

“That’s the kind of golf I like, so I’m excited for another day.”

Maguire could have gone even lower after firing five birdies in her opening 10 holes, back-to-back birdies at the third and fourth accompanied by further gains at the sixth, eighth and 10th threatening to take her into the low-60s.

But she fell into a little bit of a rut on the back nine, seven pars followed by a birdie on her final hole to give her a little bit of a boost going into the final round of the season.

After a sensational season that saw her come up just short in the Rookie of the Year race and star for Europe in their Solheim Cup victory, it would be the perfect way to round off the year for the Slieve Russell ace if she could win her first LPGA Tour event this week.

“I mean, it’s as good a rookie year as I think I could have expected,” Maguire said. “It’s gone better than I expected. I’ve achieved pretty much all my goals for this year. Obviously it would be nice to get a win, but I’ve pretty much done everything but that.

“It’s been really consistent, consistently a lot higher than last year. Did well in the majors. Solheim Cup obviously was the highlight, but it’s been really, really good year.”

If Maguire is to claim that elusive first win she will need to defeat a star-studded chasing pack, including the two in-form players in world golf in Korda and Ko.

Ko, the Race to CME Globe leader coming into the week, was particularly impressive in stringing together seven straight birdies from the second to the eighth on her way to a 66 of her own, however nine straight pars on her back nine will be a frustrating way to finish.

World No.1 Korda, meanwhile, finished off a 67 with an eagle at the final hole to set up the ideal shootout the LPGA Tour would have been looking for, but Hataoka, who was the only player to go lower than Maguire with seven birdies on the back nine in an eight-under 64, and Boutier (72) will have something to say about that.

“I was feeling really well from the beginning, and I was stroking it really well, putting really well. So I had pretty much confidence in myself today,” said Japan’s Hataoka.

“I was playing really well because I felt like I was able to manage really well, especially where to drop the ball, how to stroke the ball. So I think my overall image of the game was pretty good today.”

The players directly behind them will fancy their chances too. Gaby Lopez and Mina Harigae both carded three-under 69s to sit one off the lead at 13-under, while Maguire is joined by Nanna Koertz Madsen and Lexi Thompson in a group that is by no means out of it at 12-under.

All in all, the CME Globe Trophy is anybody’s right now. Expect final day fireworks.

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