Leona Maguire admits she feels like she’s at home in North Carolina as she moved into the top-10 at the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles Lodge with a three-under 68 on day three.
The Cavan woman broke numerous records during her four years at nearby Duke University, winning the Annika Award twice for being the top female collegiate golfer, and she is widely considered to be one of the greatest Blue Devils ever to represent them.
And in familiar surroundings, the 27-year-old carded five birdies and two bogeys to move up to five-under-par for the tournament, eight shots adrift of leader Minjee Lee heading into the final round of the second Major of the year.
The home comforts have helped, though, with Maguire delighted to see and hear plenty of support as she has played this week from former team-mates and classmates.
“Yeah, I love it. It’s a pity we don’t have a Major championship (in North Carolina) every year or even a regular LPGA event. North Carolina has been a second home to me since I went to Duke,” she said after her round.
“Really enjoying being out here this week, and plenty of Blue Devil shouts and all that. So nice to have some home support.”
She rewarded the large Duke following with some fine golf in her third round as she got off to a good start when a 14-footer dropped for birdie at the par-five first, but back-to-back bogeys followed at the par-four third and par-three fifth.
However, she found a superb run of four birdies in five holes around the turn to bring herself into a position where she has an outside chance at potentially stealing in and winning her first Major title at Pine Needles Lodge.
A fine approach to four-feet yielded a birdie at the ninth, followed by a 15-footer at the 10th for another birdie, and after saving par with a fine putt at the 11th, two more birdie putts found the cup at 12 and 13 to bring her up to five-under and into the top-10.
Having missed the cut at her previous three U.S. Open appearances, Maguire is delighted to simply be in for the weekend, and she insists she is going to try and stay patient in her bid to launch a Sunday challenge.
“Thankfully I stayed (disciplined) today for the most part. The scorecard looked like I got off to a really slow start but I thought I hit a really good shot into 4 and another into 5 and got punished for them,” she explained.
“My caddie told me to stay patient and the birdie on 9 gave me some really good momentum heading into the back nine. That birdie on 10, that par save on 11, that was massive for momentum.
“I’ll not be chasing any pins. It can be really tempting but it’s penal if you miss them in the wrong spots. I’m quite a few shots back but you never know. Things can turn pretty quickly in a Major championship. I’ll just try and post a number and see what happens.”
Meanwhile, Lee’s own four-under 67 gave her the 54-hole scoring record at a U.S. Open as she moved up to 13-under-par and the Australian will take a three-shot lead over Mina Harigae into the final round as she looks to claim a second Major title.
The defending Evian champion cancelled out one bogey with five birdies – including four in a row from the ninth onwards – to set the new lowest three-round total at 200 strokes, and the 26-year-old Perth native is now within touching distance of the $1.8million prize.
“I was pretty solid all day,” Lee said. “I was making pars when I needed to. I made a bogey but then made those birdies. It was nice to get those going and finish with all pars. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.
“A three-shot lead is a nice cushion but it’s not enough to let your heart calm down. I’m going to be really focused tomorrow, try and stay calm and concentrate on every shot I’m making.”
Harigae stayed in touch with a one-under 70 that makes her the only other player in double figures at 10-under-par, with England’s Bronte Law signing for a 68 to round out the podium places in solo third at seven-under.
Sweden’s Ingrid Lindblad continued her incredible week as the 22-year-old amateur fired a second consecutive level-par 71 to stay six-under-par and in a share of fourth alongside five other players, including World No.1 Jin Young Ko and fellow countrywoman Anna Nordqvist.