Maguire in contention while Meadow celebrates hole-in-one at Drive On Championship

Adam McKendry

Leona Maguire (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Leona Maguire believes a patient approach will be required this week after producing a sensational finish to start the LPGA Drive On Championship strongly with a six-under 66 that has her one back of the lead having carded eight birdies and two bogeys in her round.

The Slieve Russell woman looked to be on track for a fairly pedestrian first day in Fort Myers, Florida, only to suddenly catch fire in her final six holes, birdieing five of them to leave herself just a stroke back of USA’s Alex Marina and Japan’s Nasa Hataoka.

Maguire had started solidly on the back nine, having started at the 10th, by bouncing back from a bogey on the 12th with birdies at the 13th, 14th and 18th, however she gave a shot back at the first to fall back to one-under.

However, her finish was outstanding, birdieing five of her last six holes to soar up the leaderboard into a share of third, just one back of the lead after the early wave of starters had completed their rounds and with plenty of momentum going into day two.

“Got off to a little bit of a slow start, or slower than I would’ve liked, but I think the back nine is playing tougher this week, so it was nice to turn at two-under,” said the 27-year-old.

“Made a good birdie on 18 to sort of get the round going again and just finished really strong. Gave myself a lot of chances on the short holes. My wedges were really good, so that helped a lot. Hit two of the par-fives in two as well on the front side, so yeah, pretty stress-free birdies on those.

“Hit a lot more greens today than I did last week. (That was) Something I didn’t really feel that comfortable with last week; a lot more comfortable today. Drove the ball a lot better.”

With this week’s event being just 54 holes rather than 72, there is an argument that playing aggressive to try and go low is the way to approach it, but Maguire believes the opposite will pay dividends as she goes in search of her first LPGA Tour win.

“These greens, they’re deceptively tricky. There are some run-offs. They’re a lot faster than last week, so you have to pay attention where you’re leaving the ball as well. You want to try and stay below the hole, and that can be tricky in these winds,” added the Solheim Cup star.

“So it’s just a case of taking your pars on some of the tougher holes and trying to take advantage of those shorter holes, those par-fives that were downwind today, and take your chance where you get them.

“You don’t want to force anything. You just want to take your chances where you get them. I was fortunate enough to have quite a few chances today, and for the most part took them. It’s easy to say I was patient when things were going well. It’s not quite as easy when things aren’t going well.

“More of the same, I think. Bit by bit feeling a bit more comfortable. Hit a few shots on the range, hit some putts, and take it easy for the afternoon. It’s pretty draining in these conditions. You just have to kind of conserve that energy, too.”

Hataoka and Marina were both bogey-free in their first rounds, each making seven birdies in Fort Myers on their way to seven-under 65s, with Linnea Johansson alongside Maguire at six-under and Jeongeun Lee6 and Caroline Masson sitting a shot further back after 67s.

Meanwhile, Stephanie Meadow was on the receiving end of both some good luck and some horrendous luck as the Jordanstown golfer became the first player on the LPGA Tour to hit a hole-in-one this season but then saw the golfing gods turn on her two holes later.

The Jordanstown woman holed out from the tee at the 168-yard 14th for a superb ace, but then on the 16th, Meadow was only missing the green by a couple of yards to the left but her ball hit a sprinkler and cannoned into a nearby hazard, leading to a dropped shot and a bogey when she could have easily rescued a par.

In the end, the 30-year-old would sign for a further three bogeys and one birdie in a one-over 73 in her opening round in Fort Myers, Florida, which has her eight shots off Hataoka and Marina.

After her round, Meadow was obviously delighted at recording her first ace on the LPGA Tour, but admitted there was a little bit of frustration at the horrendous luck she got only a couple of holes later.

“I guess it’s just golf. I got some awesome luck and then some really crappy luck. So, yeah, I wasn’t super happy after that,” she said, although she was able to crack a smile afterwards.

“My first thought was, of course, to get something to go my way, but it was a tricky day and I just needed to keep plowing along. I had to hit it off the sand when I dropped it and I was able to get up and down.

“I guess I was just thankful it wasn’t a double and I didn’t totally erase my hole-in-one.”

Her hole-in-one was a fine shot, a piercing 6-iron through the wind that negated the breeze, pitched just short of the hole and rolled up and in, which took her to two-under-par at the time, before dropped shots at the 16th, first and fourth saw her slip back.

As well as the hole-in-one being good for her, Meadow’s ace will benefit the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, who will receive $20,000 donated by CME to go towards their research against childhood cancers and pediatric diseases.

“It’s amazing,” added Meadow. “I mean, thanks to CME for stepping up. 20 grand, it’s a lot of money and can help someone. Who knows who it will help, but I know it will help a very important person. I’m just really thankful that my great shot can benefit somebody’s life.

“It’s been a while since I had a hole-in-one and first one in my LPGA career in a tournament so, yeah, it’s very nice.”

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